Too Tired to Meditate?
How you can control the energy of being awake.
Posted June 30, 2020
One thing I have heard a lot is "I'm too tired to meditate." Or "I start meditating and then I fade out," or "My mind won't stay put; it just runs all over the place." Sometimes when your energy is too low, you can't stop your mind from wandering to work, your partner, imminent goals, or sounds around you. A friend of mine once offered the metaphor, "it's like water drops sizzling on a griddle."
One common reason for this effect is that you need a certain amount of psychic energy to reel your mind in and focus it where you want to be. This "scattered" effect you feel can also happen when your energy is too high — like when you feel "wired." But for this discussion, I want to address the problem of low energy.
Many of us use the term mindfulness synonymously with being present. That's great because it reminds us of the significance of being in a particular moment. Again, the hurdle is that sometimes we are "there"; we are present, yet our attentional beam feels like it is weakening or fading. Does this happen to you often just before entering your desired state of calm? It can happen in meditation. If so, what do you do?
Consider mindfulness as energy that can affect the strength of your attention. Or as Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh refers to it as, the energy of being awake to the present moment. Referring to mindfulness this way, as energy, can help us understand how to better self-regulate it.
Identify the strength of your attention. By catching yourself when you have good attention, you will be able to better measure how far away or spot on you are to your attentional "sweet-spot" so you can self-regulate as needed.
- Start by focusing on anything in your environment.
- Ask yourself, “How sharp is my attention at this moment?”
- Rate your attentional sharpness as follows:
Jot your rating down in a notepad. Include date, day, time, location, and task you are doing. This will give you a sense of measurement. Use a five-star rating.
- 1 star: Scattered/mind wandering
- 2 stars: Energy needs to be altered considerably, too dull/tired to pay attention or too excited to pay attention
- 3 stars: Can pay attention but energy needs to be tweaked up or down
- 4 stars: Attention and energy are good
- 5 stars: Attention and energy are excellent, sharp, and fast
Repeat the exercise again a few more times during the day. See if your ratings are higher or lower. Consider what changed so that you begin to see what elements (internal or external), as well as tasks, are having an impact on your attention. Knowing what they are will help you regulate them.
Condense Your Energy
In martial arts training, there is an activity called condensing energy. It is a breathing technique intended to give you a larger lift when your energy dipstick feels low. I have shared this with many individuals at workshops and presentations, in articles and books. You don’t have to be a martial artist or in a dojo to use this wonderful tool. There are just a few steps.
- Start by taking a slow, deep breath, inhaling naturally through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Try to relax different places in your body where you feel tense.
- Visualize yourself pulling energy from your limbs and the earth below you. Visualize streaming this energy—using your breaths—and streaming it into your body's core. Then "see" it condensing with each breath into a tinier and tinier space, until you can visualize it in a tight bundle the size of a sugar cube.
- Breathe from your belly, then exhale and picture the energy going outward "like beams of light" through your entire body and feel your energy surge. You can get creative and use your own imagery. The imagery above is just to give you the idea.
If energy is your hurdle during meditation, identifying your attentional sweet-spot and learning how to condense your energy might give you the boost you're looking for.