I’ve been having trouble meditating of late. I have a serious case of monkey brain and can’t seem to stop following trains of thought. The state of the world. Climate change. Politics. My kids. My parents. The oft-annoying cat. My depression. My self-harm. Last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Did I remember to add bleach to the grocery list? My thoughts bounce like balls in my head.
I realized as I sat there again today that the monkey brain has extended into my body. I’m in position but I’m not relaxed. I’m not breathing deeply. I’m tight and shallow and small. I sit in the chair like it’s a punishment, forcing myself to go through the motions but not sinking into it in a helpful way. Not starting with deep breathing, not starting with progressive relaxation. Just sit, start the timer, and metaphorically tap the toes while waiting for time to pass, periodically chastising myself for the poor quality of my endeavour.
We are a tense little species at times, on guard, braced. We clench our fists tight against everything that is coming at us and everything we have to do. It’s a wonder our hands are fit for doing anything.
It’s tiring to brace against the world all the time. Your neck starts to hurt, you get headaches, and your digestion suffers. Things go much more smoothly when you find some ease. When you let go of all the things you are clinging to. When you relax your fists.
Most of the things we worry about aren’t nearly as important as we like to think. Most of the things our brains are obsessing about aren’t in our control. Both of those things have been true for me, historically and during this current meditation-impasse.
You have to let go. Focus only on the things in your control. I hear that all the time. But what to let go of first?
I can scratch most of my thoughts and worries about other people, for a start.
For instance, my parents are getting old. They’re mostly health but they have a few issues to deal with. Diabetes. Prostate cancer. Age-related declines. So, I worry. I worry my dad will have a heart attack and fall down the stairs. I worry my mother will have a low blood-sugar while driving and crash and die. I worry that they’ll run out of money. I worry that they aren’t happy. I worry when they drive late at night. I can do absolutely nothing about all of those things.
My thoughts aren’t solely focused on my parents. I worry about fire at my son’s work. I worry about my step-daughter’s failure to work on her traumas. I worry about my future financial prospects when my long-term disability runs out. I worry about getting the garden ready for winter. I obsess over new tires and whether I should get snow tires this year or if all-seasons will be fine..
It’s making me very tense and it doesn’t stop when I pop myself into my meditation chair. The thoughts keep banging around. However, because they’re not totally out there or unrealistic like some of the zingers my anxiety sends, I didn’t immediately cue to the fact that I was back to focusing on things that are outside of my control.
What’s out of your control can’t be changed. I forget to remind myself of that so when the thoughts came, I didn’t let them go; I got tense. I tightened up.
I clenched my fists.
When you have panic attacks, you get a lot of advice. Some of it is even good. One thing that works to help ground me is slow, regular, deep breathing. It helps calm the thoughts. It helps to relax the body.
You think more easily when the body physically calms.
Sometimes, it’s okay to skip steps in life. For instance, I don’t always bring the water to a boil before adding the pasta. Yes, it’s gummy when you do it that way but nothing really bad happens. When I skip the deep breathing and progressive relaxation before meditating, however, when I skip reminding myself to focus on only the things that are in my control, well, that’s a less tolerable outcome.
Sometimes, it’s better to follow the plan.
Sit. Relax. Take some deep breaths. Open your fists. Open to the world. Let go of the things that aren’t in your control.