Meditating, Mindfulness and Excuses

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My conviction is this: whatever you actually manage to do, with the sincere intention to improve your life, will work. There really is no shortage of methods. The trick is in managing to do the thing, whatever it is.

The fact that meditation and mindfulness, however differently they may be interpreted, confer a wide range of benefits, has become received wisdom. For some, the definition of mindfulness is wide enough to extend to the calm you feel when you relax in a warm bath, while for others mindfulness is an extremely strenuous and uncomfortable practice, physically, mentally and emotional. Maybe what all these definitions have in common is the value they place upon a state of mind which is not enslaved by compulsive thinking of any kind, the common kinds being anxious, depressive and self-critical thoughts.

Many clients come to me saying that they have ‘tried’ meditation or mindfulness and it hasn’t worked. Others are eager to learn, but once they have learned some basic practices they report having used them once or twice, when things got bad, for instance when they felt a panic attack coming on, or during a sleepless night. Others have the opposite problem: they are able to practice when the conditions are right, when they have some peace and quiet, some free time, or just when they feel in control of their minds enough to decide to do it. When a difficult situation occurs, though, they find themselves quite unable to practice the techniques.

We tend to know what’s good for us: we intuit it, we may also be persuaded by research evidence and/or cultural trends, we may have spiritual reasons to practice, and we usually experience some degree of benefit immediately. However, it seems to remain prohibitively hard for the vast majority of people to actually do the practice regularly, so a habit builds up which is there as a safety net or cushion when difficult moments strike.

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The excuses for not meditating are endlessly plentiful and creative, but they tend to circle around one axis — not enough time. This means, in effect, ‘I don’t prioritise this’. But this seems to be a difficult thing to say; it can sound like an accusation hurled at ourselves, and it can also seem simply abstract to someone who is not used to actively prioritising anything at all, never feeling that they can consciously intervene in where the current of everyday life appears to take them.

My conviction is this: whatever you actually manage to do, with the sincere intention to improve your life, will work. There really is no shortage of methods. The trick is in managing to do the thing, whatever it is. This involves, in effect, already being at least a little in the state you hope to access through meditation — a state in which you can be to a significant extent aware of your mind and behaviour, enough to be able to make choices.

I suggest not setting the bar too high, and just doing an absolute bare minimum, every day. Eventually it will become so pleasurable and necessary that it will ‘kick in’, and there will always be time for it. Sometimes that time may stretch into awareness that keeps going throughout the day, more or less, or it might be five minutes of focused attention in the morning, done in the automatic way in which we brush our teeth.

It’s an interesting question though, why we should so very strongly resist feeling relaxed and aware, feeling calm, feeling better — why we resist pleasure, and what we actually enjoy the most, as well as what we know is good for us. This could well be something to do with self-reinforcing thought patterns of worry gaining a life of their own, and becoming emotionally entrenched; they are so convincing in their story that they are keeping us safe, keeping a look out for us at all times, in our own best interests. This worrying mind, or ego, at the end of the day can only be convinced by hard evidence that it is safe to stop worrying. It may take a while to build up a body of evidence, and this may take real effort. But believe me, it’s worth a try.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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