How to meditate with ease, even if your brain just won’t stop
A common refrain I hear from people when they first try meditation is that they can’t turn off their brains. Have you ever tried to follow some sort of meditation, mindfulness, or breathing practice and realized just how LOUD the internal voices in your head are?
Even when the voice is perfectly benign and just yammering on about what you should have for lunch or how you forgot to say that thing to your friend before they left and on and on and on, it can be exhausting.
You want to feel peaceful, but your inner-critic has other plans
But here’s the thing, the default voice inside your head is often NOT benign. And it can really get wound up sometimes and start criticizing you, especially when you’re trying something new. So if you’ve heard about all of the fantastic potential benefits of mindfulness or meditation practice but are feeling down on yourself or like you just can’t do it, this is just your inner self-critic or critical self-talk going haywire.
The critical self-talk stems from feeling like there’s a right and a wrong way to meditate and that you’re not doing it right if you’re not feeling blissed out and like you’re in a positive emotional state when you meditate.
I remember as I began to make a career change a few years ago, I began to rely on my meditation practice in a sort of typical Western way, thinking of it only as a way to relax or decompress. I’d begun to approach my meditation practice with a very “yang” or masculine-oriented perspective as a means to an end. Specifically, “I do this practice so that I can feel peaceful and calm.”
The slight shift in my practice may seem benign, and honestly I hardly noticed it at first. But anytime you intend to meditate with an expected outcome or with the desire to control the experience, you’re really at odds with the true spirit of the practice.
Self-compassion as the salve to soothe your harsh inner critic
Personally, I was able to come back to my thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and to deeply accept them in the present moment, without needing to change or control them, through the practice of self-compassion, specifically Kristin Neff’s work. I still rely on her practices today, now more than ever as I embark on a new and uncertain journey of writing, coaching, and building my coaching practice.
Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion for the past 20 years and author of the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind ot Yourself, is also often just the “medicine” my coaching clients need who are dealing with any forms of self-hatred, negative self-talk, and being cruel to or blaming themselves for the hard situations they are in.
While there really is no right or wrong way to meditate, if you’re struggling with negative self-talk, trying to change something in your life and struggling with your self esteem, or trying to commit to a meditation practice, using self-compassion guided meditations or written exercises can definitely help you to get through this spot in your life with more grace and ease.
3 Elements of Self-compassion:
1. Mindfulness - or noticing and allowing, and accepting negative emotions with a non-judgmental approach.
2. Sense of common humanity - or the idea that we are not alone in experiencing these feelings and there are those who share similar experiences.
3. Self-kindness - or giving oneself grace for one’s suffering and current state and choosing to be gentle and forgiving of oneself.
Because life doesn’t give extra points for “pushing though” or unnecessary suffering. Embracing the concepts Neff teaches around how to suffer well may help you get the traction you need to calm your inner critic to begin or keep your meditation practice going with renewed life. What are some ways you use to make it easier to meditate?