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Distracted during meditation? Can’t quiet your thoughts? This blog is for you

By Michal Spiegelman

Our corgi, Jasmine, was part of our family for thirteen years. She left us when she was fifteen. We welcomed her to our lives when she was two. She had experienced some trauma with her first family that made her transition to us difficult. We had to train her as if she was a brand new puppy, so that she felt safe with new boundaries.

I remember trying to train her to sit on a rug instead of barking aggressively whenever someone knocked on the door or even when she heard a soft noise. “Stay,” I said. And she would get up immediately and leave the rug. I would sit her back down, and she would leave over and over again. Giving her a treat every time she stayed helped. Eventually, she learned.

I had to be patient and give her love and compassion while training her.

In a way, meditation is like training a puppy. Developing a meditation practice requires training your mind while being patient, loving, and compassionate.

Many people who attend my meditation classes come to me after having a bad experience with meditation. “I can’t get my mind still,” they say. “I get distracted all the time.”

That’s true. Our minds are super busy. They work hard all day long. We are overstimulated. The digital world we live in lights up our brains non-stop. No wonder that our minds stay active even when we intend to slow down and be quiet.

Even if you meditate in the morning and start your day with a feeling of stillness, three hours later in the middle of a busy work day, no one would guess that you meditated—not even you. Is it surprising, then, that so many people think that they suck at meditation?

I’m going to focus on solutions here. But if you’re interested in understanding mindfulness and meditation more, refer to my previous blogs, “If You Want to Stop Taking on the Pain of the World, Meditate. Here is How to Start and “Lost in the Woods: Why Meditation is Just as Good as a Trip to Thailand.”

The goal of meditation is simply to sit and be aware of what arises. Meditation is becoming mindful of the present moment, and mindfulness is giving attention to the present moment with no judgment.

Let’s hone in on the definition of meditation:

To sit and be aware of what arises, becoming mindful of the present moment.

Reread it. Does it say anything about quieting our minds and pushing away distractions?

Being aware of the present moment does not mean separating ourselves from experience. It means allowing the experience to be precisely as it is and sensing it fully. Being aware of the present moment means making space for any thoughts and emotions that come up and becoming mindful of them.

I usually advise my students to choose an anchor for their meditation, especially when they are beginners. Your breath can be a good anchor. Breathing tends to be a calming and easy doorway to your sense of being.

What does it look like to use your breath as an anchor?

You are simply noticing yourself breathing in and out, in the midst of whatever is happening.

You don’t force your breath. You don’t try to breathe in a certain way. You become aware of your breath. You get curious about each and every inhale and exhale.

Once you create an anchor, your intention for the meditation will no longer be to quiet your mind or avoid distractions. Your intention for the meditation will be returning to your anchor.

Sit.
Put your phone on airplane mode.
Set an alarm for five minutes. (Enso is my favorite meditation timer app.)
Choose an anchor (for now, your breath.)
When your mind drifts away (because it will), return to your breath.
When a thought arises, become mindful of it with no judgment. Let it pass like a cloud that is drifting away, and return to your breathing.

Enjoy the PAUSE between your thoughts.
Appreciate the ability to RETURN to the present moment when you get distracted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if pausing and returning meant successfully meditating?

Well…it does.

You are not bad at meditation.

You need to modify your intention.

Remember my dog Jasmine?

I was never perfect with Jasmine. She would bark at the door, the wind, a small bug, and a soft sound. But we appreciated the moments she returned to being calm and relaxed, and we learned to accept her when she didn’t.

This one approach of being okay with returning to the present moment and becoming mindful of your current experience with no judgment is a skill you can develop.

The only question is, will you?

If you are interested in learning different anchors and techniques and fully enjoying meditating, join me for my upcoming At-Home Restorative Meditation Retreat.

I’ll provide the sacred container. All you have to do is show up.

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