Inner Trek

Therapy Questions: Episode 8

Therapy Questions: Are there people who can't meditate?


Hey everybody! My name is Dana Mooney, licensed mental health counselor with Inner Trek LLC, and welcome to Therapy Questions. This is episode number eight. This is where I answer your questions that I get as a therapist.

So today's question is something that I am really excited to talk about. It's about meditation. So the question is, "Do you think there are people who can't meditate? I've tried it and it didn't work and I just get distracted and I can't clear my mind." Okay so this is a really great question. I hear this all the time from people when we talk about meditation, and I think part of the issue is that people get, they just have some misconceptions about what mindfulness actually is.

So I'll start by talking about what it is and what it isn't and then talk about some reframes that are helpful especially if you're first starting to try to meditate. And then I'm gonna go over just a brief introduction about formal versus informal mindfulness practices if it's something that you want to try.

So let's see, what it is and what it isn't. So the definition, the definition I'm gonna use is one by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is an author and also the creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. And I love his definition. It's:

"The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment." Okay so I'm going to say it again 'cause it's a lot to sink in. "The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment."

Just to point out it doesn't say anything in there about clearing your mind. It just says that you're paying attention to what's happening right now. So if your mind is going, there's nothing wrong with that. You're just paying attention. And the non-judgmental part I think is really important too. I think that we don't really notice how much our minds are judging all the time, but constantly right? Like, "Ooh I like that. Oh I don't like that. That is beautiful, and that is disgusting. And I did really well on this, but I did really poorly on that." And it's just everything. We're constantly evaluating everything. And so part of mindfulness practice is bringing your mind back to from whatever it was thinking about and just not judging the thing. And then when you notice that you're judging the thing, not judging yourself for judging the thing, Which can be really difficult.

But yeah, it's not anything about clearing your mind. It's just about corralling the mind back when it gets distracted, just like you would like redirect a little puppy. If the puppy is kind of like "da-da-da-da-da" and you go, "Oh no I noticed that you got distracted. Just come right on back. It's okay let's notice the breath again. Oh you got distracted again, come right back we're just gonna notice the breath." And just kindly bringing yourself back. I think that sometimes we get a tendency to like punish ourselves for doing it wrong or something and in this case you're not really doing it wrong if you get distracted because every mind gets distracted. So you're doing it right if you're bringing yourself back and you're just noticing and bringing yourself back each time.

There's something really great that somebody said, can't remember who said it, but: If you're sitting for 20 minutes and you're meditating, and in that 20 minutes you get distracted a thousand times, that means that you brought yourself back and you were mindful a thousand times. Like how awesome is that? I just really loved that as a reframe.

So I like another visual too for for folks that are just starting out. Let's just imagine that you're you're wanting to turn your life around and start working out. You never really work out but you really want to try it because you heard it's healthy for you. So you go into your local gym and you're like, "Alright here I go. I'm gonna work out. I'm gonna get my 200 pound barbell and I'm gonna deadlift." And then you try to pick up this barbell and it doesn't go anywhere, but you pull out your back. And then you think, "Well I think that didn't work. I pulled out my back, and it was really painful, and probably it's because working out sucks and it doesn't help people get fit." But like, that logic doesn't make any sense right? That's kind of the insanity that I hear when I hear people say, "I sat down and tried to do mindfulness and couldn't clear my mind, therefore I don't think that mindfulness works." It's because that is what is to be expected at the beginning.

And so what I always tell people is just sit down and try and start at the beginning. Just know that it's gonna be uncomfortable. Just bringing yourself back, bringing yourself back, bringing yourself back. And that's like going into the gym and starting with the little two-pound bells and you're going, "Alright I can do the two-pound bells." Just every time you bring yourself back, "You're like yeah I'm doing it. I'm bringing myself back." And that's it you're doing it right there.

So let's talk a little bit about our formal versus informal practices. So formal practices can look like a lot of things. But basically so one really well-known formal practice is sitting meditation, where you either sit on the ground or on a cushion or on a straight backed chair, and you just notice one object of attention. So maybe it's your breath- noticing what your breath feels like going in and out. Or some people will focus on bodily sensations. So you could do a body scan. And many people do this in a guided way. So sometimes people do it in a yoga studio or sometimes people do it with apps which I'll talk about at the end. There's also walking meditation, a formal practice where you walk very slowly and just take little steps very slowly, and you're just focused on your feet and your legs and your body and what it feels like to walk- this thing that we do all the time every day without thinking about it. There's also mindful yoga, that's another form of meditation practice.

Now informal meditation practice is a little different. It happens when we're doing things kind of throughout our day. And basically it's just zoning in to whatever you're doing and noticing it on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. And so places that people usually do informal practices can be like eating. Eating is a really great place to be mindful, where you're just noticing all the food coming up on the fork, noticing your arm coming up to your mouth, noticing your opening and chewing all the food, and all the delicious tastes and your mouth, noticing how your teeth aren't biting off your tongue every time you chew, like how great is that? So just noticing all the sensations of eating. Another place that people like to do informal meditation is in the shower because the feeling of the water can be really grounding for people. It's easier to focus that way. Or even just in the walk from your car to the grocery store can be a great place to just notice what's happening right now- the sounds, the sensations, the smells that you smell- whatever it is that you're noticing right now, and just let go of the stories that your brain is saying.

Usually the recommendation is, if you're gonna focus on informal practices that you also mix in a formal practice where you're maybe sitting for 10 minutes. They recommend every day if possible. So even if it's just like you fit in 10 minutes in the morning with, you know after your coffee in the morning, or like 10 minutes on your lunch break, that's gonna really really bolster your informal practice. And the more that you practice, the stronger you're gonna get. The more of those weights that you're gonna be able to lift with your brain.

So apps! If this is something that you want to try and kind of get into and see if it does work which it does! It does work! Some apps to try are Headspace. Headspace is a really great free one. There's also Insight Timer, which is really great. And both of those have guided meditations which are a lot easier for a lot of folks when they're just getting started. So check those out.

I hope that that was helpful to kind of clear up some misconceptions and maybe gets people excited about meditation. It's a lot more accessible than I think a lot of people think it is.

So if you have questions that you want to see answered on Therapy Questions, you can put them in the comments of this video, you can email me at or you can put them in the submission form on the website at Thank you so much for watching! Be well!