The Next Buddha is Sangha

If when you hear “monkey mind” you think, “more like 100 monkeys on steroids piled into a 2’x2’ cage with banana-scented bars,” then this article is for you.

Many an-unsuccessful attempt at “becoming a meditator” has begun with my heart sinking in a beginner meditation class when people would eagerly report, after their first week of sitting every day, a moment or two of peace or calm. “Who are you people?” I would wonder, and eventually general discouragement would follow. Five years into my formal practice (after ten years of discouraging attempts), five years of knowing that I’m benefiting off the cushion despite no improvement in my concentration while on it, I still find that I cringe when someone offers to a beginner that “after a few months, or a year” of practice, they will start to have longer moments of calm, peace or focus.

If you are new to meditation and are nodding your head vigorously in agreement, also feeling different than everyone else, I’ve learned that there are other people in that room feeling the same way as you who just haven’t said as much out loud.

Through research on meditation for ADHD, meetings with wonderful teachers, tips from fellow yogis, and some trial and error, I share some very practical advice that has worked for me:

Sound as an anchor
On my first retreat, a teacher told me to use sound as my anchor, and it changed my entire practice. I’ve been told that sound, being more expansive, does not help if you are trying to practice focused concentration, but can help to keep your attention focused. Sound is expansive enough to hold my attention when my breathe is not.

Walking meditation instead of yoga or sitting
Frequently when using meditation to treat ADHD, more time is allotted to walking meditation than sitting. Interestingly, I find that yoga is usually too much movement for me: my mind is too easily distracted if there is too much to pay attention too as well as too little. People that I’ve spoken to have different bars for what is too much at any given moment in time.

Keep the focus on one leg
I spent one entire retreat focused on the specific technique of walking meditation and the impact on my attention. I eventually happened upon this trick: instead of switching from one leg to the other, I focused on the right leg walking one way, and the left while walking back. This allowed me to focus all my attention on every aspect of the movement, without giving myself a chance to get distracted during that split-second when my attention shifts from right to left, and left to right.

Of course, the number one piece of advice I have gotten is to watch the judgement that arises when I feel like my meditation practice “isn’t right.” I would even go so far as to say this is a great opportunity to practice! But, realistically, in my beginner’s mind watching my judgments arise doesn’t make it easier to commit to the taking that seat the next day!

As an important aside, I believe that sometimes there is a harmful assumption that formal meditation will always have moments of deep concentration, which in turn causes people to say “meditation is not for me,” which creates a self-selecting bias! People who stick with meditation end up being those who have tendencies towards concentration, reinforcing the idea that those with steroid-pumped monkeys in their minds are not “cut out” for the practice.

So what advice, practice, or tips have worked for you?