Clear my mind—seriously? If you’re an anxious-type, and you’ve ever tried to meditate, you’ve probably asked yourself this question (while trying desperately to concentrate on your breathing).
Well, Buddhist teacher Susan Piver has heard it all before. In this excerpt from her new book, Start Here Now ($12, amazon.com), she clears up some of the most common confusions that keep people from beginning a regular practiceâincluding exactly how to do it if you’re a worry wart.
How can I meditate when I am extremely worried about something and canâ€™t take my mind off of that?
This is an excellent question. When we sit down to meditate with a lot of anxiety or obsessive thinking, meditation can make it worseâif in meditation, we try to shut it down rather than feel it. Sometimes we simply canât let go of our thoughts. If, after some time of attempting to do so, you conclude that it is simply not possible, no problem. You can still meditate.
Here’s how to do it: Instead of making your breath the object of your meditation, make your anxiety its object. (I recognize this does not sound funâit isnât.) Take your attention off of your breath and place it instead on your anxiety.
Now, please listen to this next refinement to this instruction because it is of the utmost importance: place it on the feeling of the anxiety not the story behind it. In other words, notice how it feels to be anxious. Do you hold anxiety in your belly? Chest? Shoulders? Does it feel hot or cold, sticky or slippery? Does it pulse or is it constant? This is what I mean by feeling. Usually, our attention promptly jumps from the feeling to the story behind the feeling: I wouldnât feel this unlessâ¦ It is all my fault because â¦ I am doomed and there is no exit â¦ If this happens, then that will happen, and then I will lose â¦ If you notice that your attention has become absorbed in the narrative, let it go, just as you would let go of thoughts in meditation practice.
Return your attention to the felt-sense of anxiety. Then, when you are able, let go of anxiety as the object of your practice and resume attention on breath. If you are unable to do so, no problem. Try again tomorrow.
But aren’t some people just not cut out for this?
There is no need whatsoever to clear the mind of thought, stop thinking, or think only peaceful thoughts. The idea in meditation is to rest with your mind as it is, including those times when it may be speedy, sleepy, agitated, blissed-out, grumpy, dull, or all of the above.
I am crazy busy. How can I possibly carve out time to meditate regularly?
To begin, just meditate five minutes at a time. That is totally great. Then, when or if you feel so inclined, try to fit in two five-minute sessions per day. If even this is too much, you could meditate for as little as one minuteâat your desk, on the bus, or anyplace you can sit quietly. You could even connect with the mind of meditation for a few seconds by turning your attention within and simply allowing it to rest on your breath.