By Nick
Community Meditation Teacher

Meditation forums are full of questions like the following:

“Hi, I’m so, so struggling with meditation, should I continue or just stop for a while? Would it be any better?”

When pressed to explain what she was actually experiencing, the original commentator noted:

“I just feel I’m sitting and thinking, not feeling refreshed or any better. More depressed that I couldn’t do it.”

One of the most important lessons I ever learned in my meditation education was that you can’t just sit down and instantly reach a calm meditative state. Reaching a state of relatively calm clarity depends on a bunch of seemingly non-meditative warmups.

In this post, I want to cover just one of the preliminaries to meditating.

Limit exposure and reaction to over-stimulating sense-data.

If you are purposely stimulating yourself with violent video games (my personal vice), stress from gambling, rom-coms, or even highly cerebral Irish novels, you’re probably going to have a difficult time slowing the mind and shifting into a meditative state. Traditional texts on achieving basic levels of meditation prescribe isolating yourself from everyone and everything for an extended period of time. This is the traditional retreat. According to the classical texts it can take weeks or even months or years of solid, daily, isolated practice to begin to touch even the beginnings of a calm mind. You probably don’t have time for that. But you can start to get closer to the possibility of meditative calm by taking measures to actually live in a calm environment. That means reducing your intake of psychologically disturbing material. You probably don’t need to watch Silence of the Lambs, again.

I have found, in my personal experience, that it is very difficult to limit contact with stimulating events altogether. If you aren’t experiencing your own minor or major disasters, you will regularly receive reports on people’s problems, and this can be a source of agitation. I would never advocate cutting contact with people, but I have found it is possible to take several mental steps back from even seemingly traumatizing situations. Achieving a certain familiarity with meditation can help you maintain a retreat-mind in all sorts of situations and prevent over stimulation due to external, uncontrollable events.

Even if you can’t cut or reduce this noise, try to take a few minutes before your meditation to warm-up. Just sit (or, better yet, lie down) in silence; maybe do a body scan. Whatever you do, don’t label what you’re doing meditation. Just let it be a warmup, a preliminary.