My mind is too active to meditate. Too busy. There’s too much going on.
Those feelings are valid. Meditation, even in normal times, is not easy. If you have experienced trauma, meditation might not even be effective.
For me, however, saying my mind was “too active” was a flattering way to avoid something difficult. I didn’t lack the discipline to meditate. I was just too smart.
That’s not true, of course. I understood that after taking a meditation class. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I moved back to my childhood home and got over my reluctance to meditation. He recovered. I stopped meditating as much because that’s what human beings do. They freak out when life gets hard and relax when it gets easier.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, life got hard again. The U.S. is home to the most coronavirus infections in the world. Every day, in my apartment in Brooklyn, I hear more sirens than the day before. The inhumane flaws in our economy and health care system are eating away at my city. I don’t trust anyone who isn’t upset.
Still, you need to stay calm enough to function. Back to meditation. (Sorry, my mind wandered.) There are studies that show meditation can be useful in managing stress. But it’s also possible, in the gold rush of meditation apps and gadgets, that some claims are overblown. It’s an ancient practice, but the scientific study of meditation is fairly young, meaning there is a lot we don’t know about its benefits.
The only way to know if meditation can help you: Try it. There is a good chance you will find it frustrating. Scientists aren’t even sure how many billions of neurons there are in the human brain. So yes, your mind is “too active” to meditate, until you train it. That’s why you need to sit down, close your eyes, and practice.
Maybe you think meditation is like a beach vacation for your mind. Some people — with, one would assume, blissfully placid brains — close their eyes, and they’re lifted away from the crushing anxieties of everyday life.
That’s not how it works. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Wherever You Go There You Are, describes meditation as “the systematic cultivation of wakefulness, of present-moment awareness.” Essentially, there is no getting around your thoughts and feelings.
When you meditate, you have to sit with everything, the inchoate fears, and to-do lists and static of consciousness, something I’m still not very good at. Work, TV, booze; these can be escapes, and, for many people, there’s nothing wrong with escaping when you need it.
But if you’re interested in meditation, chances are you want to feel a bit of peace. You want to be in stressful situations and be OK. Not oblivious or delusional. But in the moment, fully aware, and dealing with it the best you can.
Your brain is active. We ruminate over the past and worry about the future. That makes us human. With meditation, success is sometimes just recognizing that your mind is racing, letting those thoughts go, and moving on.
There are so many things to be angry about right now. Which is why it’s the perfect time to start meditating.