I’ve just read a really interesting Health Rising post called ‘I think I have a meditation disability’, which confirms many of my thoughts about how an over-active sympathetic nervous system can make meditation really difficult for someone with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia.
I find meditation extremely valuable and practise at least once and mostly twice a day. However considering the amount of practise I’ve had, I’m still not very good at achieving the results that I imagine someone without the disability of an overactive nervous system might achieve. This doesn’t matter to me though because even on the days when I find it most difficult to practise I still end up calmer than I was before I sat down and attempted it. Basically it’s all relative! Instead of measuring myself up against what I expect meditation might do for me, I am grateful for what it does! And calming the nervous system even a little can have knock on effect on my other symptoms. Basically I believe that every little helps and even tiny improvements have greater value because they can prepare the ground for other improvements.
Many people find trying to meditate really frustrating though, which can actually add to sympathetic overdrive, so they don’t persist. The frustrating aspect though, comes from what we are expecting of ourselves. If we let go of our expectations that we should be able to focus on our breathing…. or the mantra…. or watching our thoughts come and go etc. then we won’t need to beat ourselves up about it when we go off course. And we will definitely go off course, and we’ll do it over and over again probably much more than a person without ME/CFS/FM. But actually that doesn’t matter. What matters is how we react to ourselves when we do. The trick is in learning to accept. If we can accept that we’ve strayed off track and gently redirect ourselves back onto the track, we can stay calm. The frustration results from resisting what has happened and judging it as wrong. In fact there is great value to any practise that teaches us to accept how things are in the moment and gently move forward from that position. We are unlikely to make any progress towards better wellbeing without this kind of acceptance! When you introduce the aim of learning to accept as part of the meditation practise it gives it a whole new meaning!
In the Health Rising article, Trish Magyari’s fantastic advice to the ‘meditationally challenged’ Donna was to work on being friendlier to herself and to meet her self-judgment by just naming it. This naming of what’s going on is great technique for mastering meditation skills. For me I often name my distractions or the kinds of thoughts that pull me off course e.g. ‘distracted by noise’ ‘distracted by discomfort’ ‘worry about future’ ‘revisiting past’ ‘planning food’ (a very common distraction for me!) etc.. It doesn’t mean I get pulled off course less often, it just means I stay calm when I do! The important thing is that you name without judgment. You are just observing the process and then moving on.
If you’ve given up on meditation in the past because of how frustratingly difficult it was, maybe you could reconsider it with an aim of learning to become more accepting of the way things actually are. This acceptance can have a great impact on an overactive sympathetic nervous system, not just when you’re meditating.
Do you struggle with a meditation disability? Have you managed to overcome one? I’d love to hear from you if you have any other tips or any questions about what you find most difficult about meditation.