Finding Your Moment of Zen: 5 Tips for the Restless Meditator

When I first learned that meditation was considered a key tool for staying sober (especially if you follow a 12-step program), I thought I was doomed. 

I grew up in New York City. I’ve always felt comfortable in chaos. Silence scares me (or it used to, at least), so I was none too eager to sit in that silence, for who knows how long, in an effort to find my “inner peace.” Honestly, I was afraid I’d find out what I was pretty much already certain of — that it didn’t exist. 

So I resisted meditation for years and years. In rehabs, in 12-step meetings, in therapy — whenever meditation was suggested, I just shrugged it off. “It doesn’t work for me,” I’d always say, even though the truth was I had only tried two or three times in earnest. And I considered those attempts failures because they didn’t put me in an instant state of calm. I expected immediate Zen — that fast-acting “ahhhhh” feeling that alcohol and Klonopin gave me — and when I didn’t get that, I gave up.

But what I have come to learn is that, like most recovery tools, meditation takes practice. It also takes a willingness to sit in discomfort and suspend judgment. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate, and once I started to embrace that fact, it got easier. 

I’ve also learned that you don’t have to sit a certain way (or sit at all – sometimes I walk to meditate), you don’t have to chant, and best of all — you don’t have to force thoughts out of your head. That’s impossible, at least for me. The more I try to push uncomfortable or intrusive thoughts away, the louder they become.

Instead, I hear and acknowledge those thoughts, and then I let them be. I don’t judge them, I don’t judge myself for having them, and I don’t judge myself for how they are making me feel. If they are making me anxious, I let myself feel anxious, but I don’t let that feeling stop me from meditating. I keep going. And most of the time, those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings start to subside the minute I stop fighting them.

And that’s it. That’s my practice. My only real responsibility is to keep on going despite what I am thinking and what I am feeling. The calm that meditation has given me has come over time, after consistent practice and lowered expectations. 

The point is, I can be anxious and still meditate. I can be worried and still meditate. I don’t have to achieve a blissed-out state of being for meditation to be successful. I just have to show up with willingness and an open mind.

So if you’re struggling with meditation like I did, here are some simple tips for embracing the practice.

  1. Start small: Begin with just a few minutes (or even just a minute) a day, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable.
  2. Find a comfortable position: You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor. Experiment with sitting in a chair, lying down, or even walking meditation.
  3. Focus on your breath: It’s the most natural anchor you have. Notice the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils, or feel the rise and fall of your abdomen.
  4. Don’t judge your wandering mind: It’s natural for your mind to wander. When you notice it, gently bring your attention back to your breath without self-criticism.
  5. Be kind to yourself: Meditation is a practice, not a perfect state. There will be days when your mind is more active than others. Be patient and consistent with your practice.

I’d also recommend anything by Tara Brach. This RAIN of Self-Compassion guided meditation is one of my favorites.

Do you have trouble meditating? Share your experience with us in the comments!


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