Last updated October, 2018.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page (no email required).
It's time for another installment of "Question and Answer Tuesdays!"
"I'm going through stressful times, and frankly I am finding it too hard to meditate. I can notice my thoughts when things are calm - but, when things are not calm, my ability to observe vanishes. At that point, if I force myself to meditate, I get more upset, more stressed, more angry than before. I've been trying for a few weeks now - any advice?"
You said you can notice thoughts when things are calm but not when they are stressful. Let me rephrase that for you: you are saying you can meditate unless it's too hard to meditate!
You aren't alone. It doesn't apply only to you, and it doesn't apply only to meditating. To the contrary, it's the case for most of us, and it's the case with most things in life!
When conditions are good, it's easy to do the things we are supposed to do. When conditions aren't good, it's hard to do the things we are supposed to do:
It's important not to look at meditating as a "quick fix" or spot treatment: you can't just do it sporadically and expect meaningful benefits. You have to build a consistent practice and do it every day - whether things are going good or not. Especially if they're not!
This consistency and repetition will improve your ability to observe your compulsive mind and its non-stop activity, and it will strengthen awareness so you can see everything as it unfolds. As a result, you learn not to get caught up in all of it. The more you do it (sit and practice), the more you will be able to carry that skill into stressful times and use it.
Put another way: practice makes perfect. Though, technically, perfection isn't skillful to strive for - so, practice makes better.
You also said meditating causes you to get more stressed, upset, and angry. Realize that meditating doesn't cause these thoughts, emotions, or mental states - it simply strengthens awareness of what is already there. So, by definition, you become more aware of your mind, your racing thoughts, and whatever they give rise to: stress, anxiety, depression, problems with focus, and so on.
But, again, it's already there whether you meditate or not.
While you can't run from it, you can ignore it - but that's not a healthy option. The thoughts and emotions will end up manifesting in different ways:
The good news is, meditating doesn't ignore it - it treats the root cause. When you practice, your job is to:
Moving your attention away is the critical part, and meditating helps you develop this skill. Through a consistent practice, you learn that none of the mental activity is permanent. Your mind will try to convince you that it is - but, you can directly experience that it isn't. You can learn to observe it all as it comes into being, exists, and ceases.
Or, as we're fond of saying, you can watch it all pass the same as you watched it all come - just like clouds moving across the sky.
The reward that comes from a consistent practice is you no longer get lost in the drama of your compulsive mind. And, as a result, you can live a happier, more peaceful life.
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