Meditators/Mindfulness practitioners - Want to talk about it with me?

After completely failing to cope with the unexpected death of a close friend a couple of months back, it was suggested by someone who was helping me work through things that I may want to take up mindfulness meditation as a daily practice to help me…well just generally deal with life a little better. I have always avoided meditation and the like because of the “new agey” trappings that hang off it, but after doing some research and watching the Great Courses introduction to Mindfulness course I started my own practice. I have only been at it about 2 weeks, so, barely practicing at all, but I downloaded the headspace app to help keep me accountable and practicing for at least 10 minutes every day, twice a day if I can.

But I’m sort of all by myself in this and don’t have anyone to really talk to or ask questions of. While I do have a couple of meditation centers near me one is so full of woo that I can’t even handle it, and the other two are Transindental Meditation and that’s a whole different thing as far as I can tell. I was thinking vaguely of going to the Zen Center in Philadelphia, but that brings a whole religiosity into things that I don’t exactly feel comfortable with.

So, I figure there have to be a handful of Dopers who meditate and some of you guys might want to have a little meditation discussion thread with me here.

Any of you guys on board?

You might try buddhism forms of mediations, not really that much woo, or the woo is just so ingrained into the culture that it passes as normal now.

I’m on-board. We had a thread related to meditation a couple of months ago. Some of the posts may offer some insight. Others, maybe not.

What’s on your mind?

Well at the moment I’m finding myself surprised by strong feelings of anxiety the crop up about half way into a 10 minute sitting session.

Right now I’m doing guided meditations on headspace and starting around Friday last week I would complete the body scan and go into breath counting and as I’m counting my breath notice the my heart starts beating rapidly and I get flooded with feelings of anxiety. I try to view it all through a detached lense like I’m supposed to, but it’s honestly pretty freaky. Today when I sat it was a lot less strong, but still there.

I don’t know what this is. It usually goes away before I’m done counting breaths (I usually do 2 rounds of 10 counts counting in and out as 1).

So, that’s what’s on my mind right now.

More generally, it would be nice to talk to some experienced mediators.

Well, I have all of about ½ day of Mindfulness (Vipassana) Meditation from a one-day class I attended about 30 years ago. Not enough by any means to start getting any benefit, of course, but I did get a strong impression of its potential. It’s also clear that it takes a lot of on-going practice and self-discipline, sustained over a period of years really, to really do it right. It’s a way of life, not a form of short-term therapy.

Yes, check out the forms as taught in Buddhist centers. The class I took was taught by the late monk U Silananda, who established and ran a Burmese Buddhist monastery near San Francisco. This form of meditation, at least as taught by Silananda, is reasonably minimal on the religions trappings and woo, and it’s definitely not “new agey”.

When you are doing the breathing, try making your exhales longer than your inhales ( if you are inhaling on a count of 4, exhale on 6 ). This is said to be calming — if you are feeling depressed or “low energy”,- reverse it.

Let me ask… what specific value or benefit do you hope to realize from the practice? Do you have a specific goal, or something else, that you think you’ll achieve with meditation? I have an idea from reading your OP, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

I’m not qualified to help you with the anxiety that you’re feeling. I’d be irresponsible not to recommend that you find a formal teacher who may have some practical advice for your specific situation. However, one of the things that worked well for me was to not take it so seriously. Simply put, meditation is exercise and discipline for our mind. In the same way we exercise and strengthen our bodies, we can strengthen our awareness of our mind’s attitudes/actions/thoughts. It can be very empowering.

Having a substrate to build upon is helpful. I learned within a Mahayana Buddhist framework. I thought this was valuable as an introduction and to guide/motivate me. However, it was also a hindrance, until i was able to separate the spiritual woo from the practical uses of meditation. Finally, I came to understand that the real idea here was just to study my thoughts and the workings of my brain. I needed to see how the thoughts would arise, how they would grow and how they ultimately manifested themselves into a sense of reality.

That’s analogous to the guided-mediation of picturing thoughts as clouds that meander through your mind. As they first appear, they are benign. They’re just little thoughts, like clouds, appearing in the clear sky of your consciousness. If you can recognize their arising early, you can brush them gently aside and watch for the next cloud/thought to arise. However, if you continue to entertain the thought, it begins to grow and take on much more meaning. As the thoughts grow, they accumulate a scenario and a story, and before you know it, you’re writing a novel in your head.

And that’s what you want to recognize. We want to avoid getting all the way to the “novel” stage. Try to notice how the thought arises, and try to stop it from going any further or getting any more-detailed. At the beginning, it’s nigh impossible, so don’t allow yourself to get frustrated. It’s no big-deal. The more you work at recognizing the thought arising, the quicker and easier you’ll be able to gently push them away.

Anyway, that’s my US$0.02. There’s worlds more to it than that, but perhaps it’s a starting point.

I used to meditate daily, for about 6-7 years. I don’t any more. I don’t know the headspace app, but I can comment from my experience. It sorta makes sense to me that you might experience some anxiety while meditating, because of the experiences that led you to meditation in the first place (the ‘failing to cope’). Or maybe it’s unrelated. Over time, you might come to some realisation that the anxiety is related to this or that, or it might cease to be an issue. Meditation has a way of smoothing out the bumps.

From a practice perspective, there are a lot of things that your brain can come up with that seem like they are more important than meditating, but, really, while you are meditating, for that 10 minutes, none of them matter. Just keep following along with the app, or your breath, or whatever your focus is. It is all OK. This is what meditation is about.

Not sure if this is the kind of discussion you are looking for…?

Since meditation can bring on sleepiness, you may find it useful to do some meditation when you’re trying to get to sleep. If it takes you 20 minutes to fall asleep, you just did 20 minutes of meditation. Meditating after exercising can also be easier.

When meditating, keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect. Noticing that your thoughts have wandered and coming back to the object of meditation, with equanimity, is part of the process of meditation, not a failure.

On feeling anxiety halfway through: Keep in mind that meditation doesn’t create that anxiety, it just quiets your mind enough that you can know perceive that background noise of anxiety that’s with you all day. It’s the equivalent of having nearly everyone in a room become quiet and then hearing people who’ve been whispering throughout but that you couldn’t hear.

There isn’t a wrong kind of discussion really. I appreciate everyone’s input so far and will have more direct responses later. Mostly because I don’t have a class or a teacher I thought it would be good to find some people to talk to.

Emphasis added. That’s the problem. Meditation: It’s not what you think.

I would recommend not tying meditation to sleeping. The idea is to reach a state of mindfulness without falling asleep. If you fall asleep, that defeats the purpose. I would suggest finding a good group and doing a few guided meditation sessions. They can be very helpful when you’re first starting.

I find it helpful when meditating to remind myself continuously (sometimes even saying mentally over and over like a mantra) “off-duty, off-duty, off-duty.” During these few minutes you don’t HAVE TO do anything, you are off the hook, standing by, can’t do it wrong, can’t make a mistake, on vacation, or whatever image releases you from the need to achieve or live up to anything. YMMV.

I have waffled through many forms and the ones that benefited me most were Tai Chi Ch’uan, Headspace/guided meditation, and using a candle as a focus point while counting breaths. Like everything else, the more diligent you are at practicing the forms, the better the benefits are. The thing I found most useful was to imagine you are sitting by a river watching the current flow by (Your thoughts) and to let them flow past. You will inevitably pick something out of the water which will distract you. When that happens, examine the thought and how it fits in with what you are feeling in the moment and then gently place it back in the river and let it float away. Don’t try to ignore them, acknowledge them and let them go. Otherwise, you’ll end up on a tangent away from your meditation.
I hope that makes sense.
I also highly recommend Tai Chi as not only is it a good meditative practice, it is social and good exercise without being exhausting. I always found my energy levels, mental clarity and mood much higher after a good session.

That’s a good idea. My practice is to visualize myself as if were floating in empty space, immune to any input from the outside. I’m just here breathing, like a door opening and closing. Opening and closing. Sometimes I’ll try an exercise where I listen to everything happening around me, but only listen. I hear it, but it’s apart from me. That’s a little harder to do.

And that reminds me. There is a place very near my house that does directed meditations the first Sunday of every month. I haven’t been for awhile, but I think I’ll make a showing this Sunday.

I’ve been meditating on and off for about 10 years. Not currently. That sounds like a good goal for 2018.

Particularly when I’m just starting up again, I experience intense anxiety and other emotions as soon as I hit the cushion. I have come to expect this. Being left alone with yourself is hard. When we are in an unhappy state, we do everything we can to fill that void with distraction. Meditation removes so much of that distraction and we are forced to live with ourselves as we are. It’s not a great feeling. I’ve had times on the cushion where all I did was sob despairingly.

I try to use these times to learn more about different emotions. What does this feel like in the body? Where is there tension or pain? The purpose of meditation, in my opinion, is that it’s practice for life. You learn to pay attention to things while you’re sitting on the cushion so that you can bring that awareness to washing the dishes, driving the car, filling out spreadsheets. I’m a highly emotive person so this is good practice for being emotionally aware, too.

There are a couple of things I always have to re-learn when I sit down to meditate.

The first is that I am never satisfied (the root of suffering is desire.) No matter how right things are going, there’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop, worry that I’m going to lose what I have. I’m always wishing I could do and be better. And that’s okay. That is what it means to be alive. Meditation helps me accept the fact that* things will never be totally right.* So I stop freaking out so much about things not being perfect.

The second is that I am constantly creating narratives and stories about myself and my life. I’m an endless storyteller. “I’m bad at math.” “I have a problem with disciplined behavior” or even positive - “I’m a really strong person who has overcome so much.” The stories aren’t always true, or only contain partial truths. When I meditate, I am better able to recognize them as just stories. When I have less attachment to them, I suffer less.

Both of these things are good things, and with daily practice, can be life-altering things.

I found this a surprisingly hard question to answer. I’m genuinely not sure what I’m hoping to achieve other than I’m hoping that, maybe, I’ll be able to cope better with the everyday stress of life and generalized fear of death that cropped up when my friend passed.

Your suggestion of taking it less seriously rings true though. I am reminded of when I was learning to shoot a bow and arrow as a teenager and was told that I was “aiming too hard”. It’s something that has been pointed out as a problem I have in many areas over the years. Learning to stop aiming so hard is a constant struggle.

I like this idea and I wonder if the actual impending end of my own vacation period isn’t what triggered some of the anxiety.

After some googling this morning I found that, to my surprise, there is a lot of Tai Chi instruction in my area. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out.

This was an enormously helpful post. Thank you.
Different topic from my anxiety, I am finding that the longer I practice the types of thoughts that I am having distract me are different. More imagination wandering and less random words and phrases floating by. Anyone else experienced this? I found this surprising when I noticed it today.

The reason “I just want to feel better” is perfectly legitimate. That’s my reason for doing just about everything of a therapeutic, self-help, introspective, seeking nature. I just want to feel better, even for a little while.

Can you wrap your brain around the following idea WRT meditation: “You can’t do it wrong.” Because you can’t. For us competitive achiever types who work for the grade, that can be very hard to grasp. Or believe.



Absolutely normal. You’ll find settling your “monkey mind” is a tricky business. In some ways it’s like trying to get a recalcitrant 8 year old to do homework; they’ll find new and novel ways to get out of doing what you want. Just firmly and gently steer your mind back to the topic at hand and let the other thoughts flow away. I really do hope you enjoy trying out Tai Chi; if you have a friend to go with it can be even better.

I’m going to start Tai Chi on the 16th. I’ve never tried it. It should be instructive.

When I first started I felt a little like being on the dance floor doing a line dance everyone knew the moves to but me; which was mostly true. Stick with it as all I know was that after three months I felt like a million bucks after every class and had a lot of fun in addition to being able to touch my palms flat to the floor without bending my knees; something I couldn’t do before.