Meditation for the ADD Mind
Becoming aware that you've lost focus, then consciously abandoning whatever has captured it and shifting back to a constant source, is literally the entire practice of meditation.
Caveat emptor: I definitively have mild ADD, but it's not debilitating even without medication. It more just adds flavor to how my mind works. As such, YMMV.
Myths of what meditation must be
- Clear your mind
- Focus entirely on your breathing
- Stay wholly still and seated
- You have to meditate for as long as possible to get the benefits
Pretty much antithetical to how an ADD mind works, right? To the point that it's a joke. The type of meditation described by these statements is exceedingly well known, and throughout my own exploration of meditation, resources for guided meditation are monolithic in their assumption that this is how you want to meditate. But many of them have an asterisk: This is not the only way to meditate. Ten Percent is the closest I've found to describe how to meditate in ways other than what's described above.
Benefits of Meditation Unique for ADD
I hope it goes without saying, I didn't achieve enlightenment from regularly meditating.
Regular meditation will actually improve your ability to concentrate and focus; it absolutely does not replace medication if you need it, but from my own personal experience with trying different medications, it's a fantastic supplementary practice. One thing I had a hard time with on medication was the difficulty with context switching when necessary. Like, I'd be debugging a program, and getting frustrated with not finding the source. The medication made it too easy to stay calm and keep hacking on a non-productive path. After regularly meditating, I could also notice that I was getting frustrated and then see it was because I needed to try a different approach.
I achieved a greater sense of self with regular meditation. Instead of feeling like I was in the center of a storm of thoughts, I developed a feeling that I was more listening to a radio station; different “voices,” or “tones” more accurately,” would come on a radio to be heard, and I got to choose how I responded to them.
I developed an understanding that my emotions are just thoughts that have body sensations attached to them or thoughts without linguistic content. This understanding shifted so much power away from my feelings and to me.
My sense of time went for a loop, especially when I learned about hyperreal numbers. Each infinitesimal moment passes with the arrow of time, and when it's here, it's the only fragment of time that actually exists. The past has happened and can only be reasonably inducted from side effects, and the future has yet to come, making it less than dead because it's never existed at all.
I hope it goes without saying, I didn't achieve enlightenment from regularly meditating. I still get caught up in my thoughts sometimes; I still let my anger get the best of me sometimes; I still feel like I don't control my own inner voice sometimes. But all of those happen less frequently and I'm confident they'll only improve as time goes on and I continue to meditate.
First steps for meditating
Breath is the quintessential focus because once the body and mind are relaxed, your body will breathe all on its own; what if you can't rest your brain, though?
There's no way around it, you have to focus on something while meditating, but do not mistake lack of focus as failure to meditate. From my ADD perspective, losing and then regaining focus is the entire point. Becoming aware that you've lost focus, then consciously abandoning whatever has monopolized it, and shifting back to a constant source is literally the entire practice of meditation.
Breath is the apocryphal focus because once the body and mind are relaxed, your body will breathe all on its own; what if you can't rest your brain, though? Then breathing becomes less reliable. So for me personally, having ADD made focusing on my breath kind of the intermediate level of difficulty, especially as I would become self-conscious about how was I was breathing and try to adjust.
For this reason, the ADD beginner, I encourage focusing on your heartbeat instead. There's very little conscious control over the heart, it'll keep pumping as it does. It can be challenging to figure out exactly how to feel your heartbeat, and methods vary. For me, after a moment's concentration, I can feel the subtle physical shift in my chest, or I can feel a tiny pulse under the skin of my arms.
Zeroth steps for meditating
For the absolute ADD beginner, though, I encourage instead to focus on letting go of your conscious focus of how your thoughts are flowing. It's tricky, but instead of getting lost in an idea (“What would Saturn taste like in soup since it floats? What if you infused it into a drink using nitrous oxide?”), simply acknowledge to yourself that that thought has happened, and then see what the next thought will be. This will build up your mental muscles for noticing when your thoughts change, and eventually, you'll be able to just let thoughts happen. This will allow you to let them go and shift your focus consciously.
Take actual steps
You absolutely do not need to sit still! Walking meditation is one of the best ways to engage in body scan meditation because it's so much easier for my ADD mind to focus on specific parts of my body if those parts are in active motion.
Every moment is experienced
Finally, don't feel like you have to set aside an hour or even thirty minutes, especially as a beginner! Start with at most ten minutes a day, and if that's too much, take it down to five. The point at the start is frequency, not length!