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 overactive 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 well-being 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.
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8 thoughts on “ME/CFS/FM and Overcoming a Meditation Disability”
Wow! This is so good to read. Will try again with kinder attitude
Excellent post. Am forwarding it to my daughter who has M.E. Thanks.
Another thing I find it helpful to remember is that in the west we are using meditation for its associated health benefits. However, it was originally intended as a practice to bring the meditator into the present moment, to increase their awareness of all that’s going on inside the mind and outside. Sharon Salzberg says that when you notice your attention has wandered away from the breath, or whatever you are using as a focus, you just gently bring your attention back to the breath. That IS the practice, so no judgement or frustration is necessary. It’s the old thing of every time you make a mistake, that is when you actually learn something.
And the benefit of understanding the original Buddhist context is that it relieves the western pressure to be perfect, with the added effect of soothing the sympathetic nervous system.
I hope this is helpful. It’s a great topic to raise as meditation is of huge benefit to PWME/CFS.
Great to hear from you again Amanda. A really helpful and clarifying comment! Thank you!
Thank you for this interesting post. I love meditating and it’s the only way I can achieve a complete body and mind deep relaxation, but even though I have been practicing for over a year I still struggle to achieve the results I really want – like yourself.Overall though meditation has been one of the most beneficial things I have tried since my diagnosis
I totally agree, meditation is really beneficial! Even though its hard to master!
I find mindfulness easier (in my as yet unpracticed state) because distractions can be acknowledged without judgement before focusing my mind back on the present.
Hi Rhoda, To me that is the most important feature of successful meditation: accepting and acknowledging distractions without judgement, before focusing your mind back on the present moment of the practice!
Its not so much about achieving an uninterrupted state of tranquility, but more about making the space to learn and practicing the skills that will bring you more peace throughout your day!
To me the main difference between mindfulness and meditation is that mindfulness can be brought into any moment of the day while meditation involves taking time to sit down and focus on a practice!
Enjoy developing your mindfulness! I’m sure it will bring you great benefits!