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Help! I can't stop my mind wandering during practice

So there you are, poised on the cushion, phone switched off, hoping for some stress-busting meditation time. But within minutes, the mind’s gone off on a frolic of its own like a puppy after a ball. Before you know it, the bell sounds and you realise you’ve just spent twenty minutes planning the next supermarket shop, and listening to your own inner critic lambasting you about your unhealthy eating habits. Now you feel bad. Possibly more stressed than you felt before you started. What went wrong?

It’s all about noticing

Actually, nothing went wrong at all. You’re a human being and human minds have an in-built tendency to wander. That’s what they do. The very fact that you became aware that your mind had wandered away from the practice, is a sign that you are learning to be mindful. Because a big part of mindfulness is about noticing things.

Over time, the more you practice mindfulness, the easier you will find it to notice that the mind has wandered and to gently bring it back.

That tendency to judge

It’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of judging whether a particular practice went well or not. One of the cornerstones of mindfulness is non-judgmentalism and the person most of us are quickest to criticise is often ourselves. So it might be helpful to try to let go a little of any tendency to reflect on whether a particular practice was good or bad.

It’s been said that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. Is this true? There are certainly times when meditation comes more easily. But with perseverance and patience, you will hopefully start to experience the benefits of regular practice.

Aches, pains and annoying itches

Sensations coming up from the body can be a big distraction when trying to practice. If you find your mind wandering because of bodily discomforts, then you have a choice. Either adjust your posture (but do it in a conscious way-be as mindful as possible about the movement) or maybe just remind yourself that the ache will pass. Perhaps make it part of the practice to notice how bodily pains and itches are transient and constantly changing.

I can’t stay awake!

If you need to sleep then sleep is, without doubt, the healthiest thing you can do. If you find that you always fall asleep when trying to practice then it might help to try changing the time when you meditate- maybe first thing in the morning would be better for you than the night time. Or you might also think about adopting a different posture. But some people find that listening to a guided practice is a helpful part of their bedtime routine. That’s no bad thing at all.

Might noticing that the mind has wandered be a positive?

Once you have got into the habit of noticing the wandering mind with compassionate interest and gently bringing your thoughts back to the practice, you are well on the way to building up your mindfulness muscles. So next time you notice your thoughts going off on a frolic of their own, don’t feel bad about it. You are making progress on the gradual but rewarding journey of training your own mind to decide for itself what to dwell on.

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