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any advice for not being able to meditate

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This might sound dumb, but much of my life I have found it impossible to meditate. For some reason I started feeling better last year, and my meditation was very good, but now I'm back to losing attention over and over, and it doesn't get better. I don't mean I'm some beginner who is just starting, I'm talking years and years, of no or very little success.

Meditation sounds like it would help me a lot, but whatever is wrong with me neurologically seems to make it impossible. Truly. This isn't a lack of effort. I have just sat anyway, for hours on end, over and over.

Maybe there is nothing I can do, but if anyone has actually gone through this or knows what will help, I would like to know.

Please don't bother posting that I should just stay with it. I do that. My mind wanders or sometimes I fall asleep over and over. Even when my meditation is better it isn't something relaxing and enjoyable. No bliss or special insights ... well, maybe a few, but nothing big. I'm not after bliss or special stuff, I just want the benefits of meditation, which I can't get if I can't meditate.

Thanks.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/30/11 4:07 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Hey John,

Sorry you're having problems, hopefully you'll get some advice on here which can help out a bit.

I know what you mean about being told to just stick with it. However it really is the best advice, but what would be useful is knowing what sort of meditation you're doing right now and then perhaps it'll be easier to suggest something more helpful and specific.

You can meditate, if you continue to think that you can't then you'll never be able to.

I'm not after bliss or special stuff, I just want the benefits of meditation, which I can't get if I can't meditate.

What is it that you're actually looking for then? Would you mind saying a bit more about this?

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/30/11 5:15 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
I think in a word it would be equanimity. I don't want to become emotionally escalated every time I think someone is being critical. I don't want to be upset because of words. I just want to feel peace.

Oh, and I have tried almost everything, but I usually watch my breath, or my thoughts.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/30/11 5:30 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
It may help to work with a CD. I imagine you may have already done that, but in case you haven't, a guided meditation may be a solution for you.

Another thought is to try very short sessions--as in 5 minutes or so--several times a day. A physical practice, such as yoga or tai chi, might help as well.

But finally, you may want to have yourself checked out by a specialist in neurofeedback. I did that and found some ADD plus other stuff going on. I got hooked up to a computer (with wires that tracked my brainwaves) that helped me achieve some good relaxation states. I think that has helped. I don't use it any more, but it probably put me in shape to meditate.

All the best, Laurel

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/30/11 6:53 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
John W Hooper:
I have just sat anyway, for hours on end, over and over.

what happens when you sit, exactly? just mind wandering and falling asleep?

have you tried the technique of noting? it sounds like you'd benefit greatly from noting out loud, one note per second. read the 'basic exercise' sections here for a primer, and just say one note once per second out loud, or once every two or three seconds, whatever is comfortable.

also maybe try sitting when you have more energy. what position do you sit in? you can even try meditating while walking around or standing if you are a low-energy type.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/31/11 4:29 AM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Have you ever gone on retreat? If you do it 14 hours a day within two or three days there will be a qualitative shift, and you'll be able to do it.

As to why you might be unable, let me ask you a couple of questions:

Do you get easily absorbed into an activity? Does it happen for instance that while working or doing something you enjoy time just flies by and you are very concentrated? Or is this very rare for you?

Do you alternate between feeling either too drowsy and distracted to meditate or feeling too tense to meditate?

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/1/11 6:44 AM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Hi John:

I've read that between the time of a basic fight or flight trigger (i.e., a tree coming through the wall, or its precedent crrrrraaaack) that there is 1/4 second before the amygdala triggers. Second, I've read that being able to name or identify a feeling as it arises diminishes the amygdala response. (Consider cross-checking this online, b/c this is memory). [Meaning: over time, via your recognition, like experienced practitioners, the experience of jostling feelings can change/reduce and so forth. ].

So, practice can be approached via the available stages.

Meditation sounds like it would help me a lot, but whatever is wrong with me neurologically seems to make it impossible.
I do not know to what condition you allude, but you are here and are seeking. Personally, at 38, I say mental conditions can be worked with. For example, an HFA person often has attributes of high anxiety as well object concentration; anxiety can be freed and object concentration remain.

Truly. This isn't a lack of effort. I have just sat anyway, for hours on end, over and over.
Understood.

Maybe there is nothing I can do, but if anyone has actually gone through this or knows what will help, I would like to know.

Please don't bother posting that I should just stay with it. I do that. My mind wanders or sometimes I fall asleep over and over. Even when my meditation is better it isn't something relaxing and enjoyable. No bliss or special insights ... well, maybe a few, but nothing big. I'm not after bliss or special stuff, I just want the benefits of meditation, which I can't get if I can't meditate.
Can you work with that which arises mentally in you which is not equanimity?

Based on naming research (which study I would have to find...) you might sit in meditation for 5 minutes (even 1 minute - something) and when a feeling comes up with a visiting thought internally give it its name, i.e., "defensive".

When such a non-equinamous thought arises during an interaction with someone, you may be able to do the same thing.

In between those thoughts-and-namings, return to five senses - smelling field, physical feeling, visual field, hearing field [and tasting field ].

Caveat: naming can be a cacaphony of trying to catch up to thoughts and cause any new manner of naming-thinking-name-thinking, Should this occur, you can go to nameless acknowledgement, which is performed by returning to the field of the senses when you recognize thoughts-feelings occurring. [You can also journal the thoughts and feelings. Sometimes this deepens fear of a fear of thoughts-feelings permanency; sometimes it releases; sometimes it's just journaling]

I would do the above in a pleasant-neutral environment (i.e., at a window looking at trees or at a pond or river's edge, etc) to allow the brain a true chance to leave its self in between its own awareness).

What do you think?

[edits: spelling, clarity]

____________

6/1 edit:

John - the other thing I have done is used 20 minutes of exercise (at whatever tempo you like) as "meditation", meaning: there is a narrow field of activity for a time allotment that is outside of "my" control (other than setting the duration) - in that time, "I" could see how it comes and goes, what mental activity was occurring.

Where the physical exertion was significant, the resulting effect after exercise was a temporary "smoothing" of mental activity.

Caveat: my experience is that a mind of self can easily become louder/can easily rise above the body and to its own embellishment- meaning, some mental activity is only very briefly smoothed by exercise.

In continued efforts (and an openness to trying different methods should others - like sitting meditation - "fail"), it seems like a person is likely to approach their arrival at the consequences of their intent.

best wishes

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
5/31/11 9:22 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Hi John!

No "stick to it" platitudes here, for a very good reason. Whatever you are actually doing when you sit, and thus whatever habits you are reinforcing by sitting thus, is not working for you at all! :-)

It would definitely help to get a plain-language phenomenological report of what happens, precisely, during a typical sit. What do you "do" as a "meditator"-- what's the difference between chilling out on the couch just daydreaming/dozing and what you do/what happens when you sit? Just the posture? What else? What is the nature of the obstacle-- is it more agitation and restlessness, or sleepiness and dullness? Or both?

Summing up some of the excellent advice everyone has offered so far, I would suggest identifying an activity in which you regularly experience some form of really deep, alert engagement. for some it is working with their hands, others singing, others sex, eating a good meal, and so on. Find something you regularly do in which you find yourself relaxed and alert and flowing with the activity without much distraction. That is a state of concentration, of being with what's happening. When you find such an activity, notice what that state of relaxed, alert engagement is like*.

Then next time you attempt to practice formally, intend to "taste" that state. Find relaxed, alert attentiveness in the flow of your experience of sitting, breathing, and sensing, just letting any thoughts come and go as one more sense field. But just try to taste it for a few moments, then break the practice, look around the room, think about something else, stretch your legs. Then, intend to find that state again, and rest there for a few moments. Don't attempt to prolong it, let go of any expectations of maintaining that state for more than a few moments. Repeat these short sessions broken up like this.

Going about daily activities, find that state for a short moment, such as when you get up to get a glass of water, or whatever. Have you ever tried practicing like that? Hours and hours of practice are great, and for most indispensible at certain junctures on their paths. But there is no point spending hours conditioning your mind to be restless, distracted, sleepy and so on. That would be like telling an athlete-in-training to keep working out in a way that damages bones, muscle and sinews. Not helpful, and doing it more and for a longer time just will make it worse. You've got to find the knack for being clearly present in the flow of experience first, before you attempt to build those muscles of clear alert presence to the point of continuity and openness required for progress.

* if there is nothing like that in your life, think of something which might fit the bill, and try it out. If there is nothing in your life, and nothing you can think of trying, which involves attentive appreciative engagement, there may very well be any number of issues, whether neurological or psychological, underlying your problem meditating, which need to be addressed on their own terms.
--Jake

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/4/11 7:05 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Thank you all very much, I didn't expect so many kind and concerned responses. I didn't want to bore anyone, but since you have asked I can take you through my typical session.

For instance yesterday. I sat on a couple of pillows, and just relaxed and became aware of my thoughts. My thought wander again and again, and I watch them and they cease for a second then start again. Ah, now my legs hurt a little, and my mind goes there every two seconds. My legs hurt. I'm not comfortable. Now all I'm thinking about is that my legs hurt.

I give up and lay down. Now my legs can't hurt. I watch my thoughts, and they slip away for a while then I notice again, and become watchful again, and they slip away, and then I start to catch myself dreaming, falling asleep over and over.

Sometimes I seem to hit a long patch of nothing, no thoughts, and then I fall asleep, and wake up realizing that I was dreaming quite nicely, and my mind was rattling along like always in the dream.

This goes on for an hour and a half or so. Maybe I did have some times in there where I was meditating, but I don't remember them. I never felt particularly relaxed, peaceful, or anything great. I suppose I did feel better afterward, but I did nap for probably 30 minutes of it, and I don't always feel better, but I did this time.

It just doesn't seem to be the way people describe it.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/4/11 9:03 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
hi John :-)

Sounds like you may have a few preconceptions about what meditation is "supposed to be", along the lines of making you "feel better".

Perhaps a re-frame would be helpful. What if meditation is just exactly what's actually happening right now, within and around you, with the only difference from "normal" being that you are attending to that flow of what happens in an open, non-controlling way. Kind of like you seem to have done, at least retroactively, to generate your report! :-) hehehe Just noticing what is happening within and around you, and making a bit of a discipline of that when you practice formally. Feeling good, feeling bad. Thoughts happening and not happening. Sleepy and awake and dreaming. Just seeing what's actually happening, instead of telling yourself stories about it and what it means. And if you do, just seeing that that is what's happening. It all just comes and goes on its own, doesn't it?

This could be a good start.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/4/11 11:36 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
Watching thoughts is hard: they are vague, slippery objects that are the object most likely to lead to failure.

Physical sensations are easier. Have you tried walking meditation with solid, rapid noting technique a la mahasi sayadaw style? I find it quite good for fighting fatigue and for building durable concentration.

Some of my most important insights came while walking, and it gets too little emphasis, IMHO.

Kasina objects such as red or white disks and candle flames are great objects for the sort of results you seem to be after. Have you tried those?

Daniel

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/6/11 9:24 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
I will try a candle flame instead of thoughts. Perhaps I never developed enough focus to deal with thoughts and I need something a little easier, thanks!

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
6/8/11 2:13 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
I haven't been formally mediating very long (< 2month), but here goes my 2 cents.

Have you tried explicitly focusing on your breath by counting (1-10 or such) and trying to hit on Samadhi Jhanas by explicitly counting your breath, then switching to pleasure sensations of the 1st Jhana, which would infuse you with some bliss and rapturous feeling, give you positive feedback and then as you get to a desired level of concentration, you can switch to a more insight oriented approach, i.e. Mahasi noting or such.

RE: any advice for not being able to meditate
Answer
7/1/11 3:13 PM as a reply to Sigfried Von Hilsheimer.
dharma practice is seeing reality ie cause and effect as it is. you cant have good effect without good causes, and those causes should be supported by intentions that are about letting go or renunciation. Get a good bare bones book on meditation like: Mindfulness in Plain English By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.
Also Check out the youtube video of Bhante Vimalaramsi's Metta Meditation.
advice from sutta's is to start with the body as the 1st Foundation of mindfulness. as anyone can see sitting relatively or totally still is easier than stilling the mind.
also, I do this sometimes i dont know what you would call it excactly, but, pose the question in the mind when a thought arises: where does this thought originate (where in the body)? and you should notice, that you cant notice where the thought came from but none the less it's there. or is it? Ha Ha! the inconstancy of these thoughts are stressful if I really owned them I could pin them down or will them to be what I wanted (equanimity), hence they are also not self.

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