How can I meditate in stressful times?

When times are tough, we need meditation more than ever.

Is Life a Circus?

The entire world is going through some stressful times. Right now it’s April 4, 2020 as I record this and we’re just in the midst of an almost global lockdown because of the Coronavirus. These are not happy times for a lot of people.

That’s why I wanted to talk about the intro music, which the type of music you would commonly hear at a circus.

It’s my goofy way of suggesting life is like a circus, at times a spectacle, at times full of fun candy and games, at times full of odd and mind baffling sights.

The idea was we should see life as a show we are a part of but not get too caught up in. We still have agency to not be distracted by this entertainment, this spectacle of life and return to our self, our interior and decide what we want to participate and what we want to withdraw from.

We can choose to focus on trying to make the world more just, more equitable, more open, more safe for everyone. If we can turn away from the spectacle of life, we can turn to task of making life better for everyone.

That was the idea and the reason for the goofy intro music.

But now it seems the entire world is a part of high wire act. We’re all trying to walk along a thin rope suspended a hundred meters in the air. We’re all participants of this circus act.

We were participants all along, but now we are clear, active participants.

And I’m thinking maybe the goofy music is too much? Too insensitive? Too playful for these times?


I’m going to keep using it and see how it feels. I like the cheerfulness of it. The playfulness of it. And we all need some cheerfulness and playfulness in our lives. So I’m keeping it right now for that reason.

But it might have to go. All things have a natural life span. This intro music may only live for a handful of episodes more.

I just felt a need to talk about it, to point out this elephant in the three ring circus that is this podcast.

How Can We Meditate in Stressful Times?

It’s one of the most stressful times most of us will ever experience in our life.

The only way we can get through this is to take care of each other and also to take care of ourselves.

Meditation is an important way to take care of ourselves.

It’s not always easy, but it’s important.

And since you are listening to this, I’m assuming that you think meditation might be helpful too. The premise of this podcast and of my life has always been meditating regularly. Helps you with everything else in your life. This is especially true during stressful times.

Yes, there are a lot more important things to do.

You should take care of yourself financially. You should take care of yourself in terms of food. You should take care of yourself in terms of shelter. All of those things need to come before meditation.

This is especially true if you are NOT already a regular meditator.

If you don’t have a regular established practice, then yes, you need to take care of yourself and your family during difficult times.

But that doesn’t mean meditation can’t help.

Benefits of a Regular Practice

For those who have an established practice, it might be years long or it might be decades long, then meditating just becomes a natural part of the day, like taking a shower or brushing your teeth or eating breakfast. During the hard times, it really helps to have that as a natural, habitual part of the day.

For instance, I’ve been meditating for decades and no matter what happens, it’s the first thing I have to do when I get ready. Whereas I have friends who have been doing yoga for decades, and it’s the first thing they have to do before they do anything else during the day.

So these habits really do have an effect and they have the most effect when we can’t think straight due to other things happening in life or the world. That’s when they’re most beneficial as habits.

But even if you don’t have meditation as a habit, it’s still really important to try to take a few minutes here or there during the day for a simple breath, a simple check in with yourself, a simple moment of quiet and peace and compassion and love for yourself.

We Need to Reset the Chemistry of the Body

Our bodies are wired to shoot all of these intense chemicals through us during hard times. And that’s a good thing. They give us energy and focus and determination, but we can’t be like that. Our body cannot be like that 24 seven all the time. That level of intensity is going to wear us out. It’s going to wear us down.

We need breaks. We need times of calm and peace.

We need times of rejuvenation. We need times of reenergizing.

By taking those times, we help ourselves perform better when it matters most. That’s the reason to take those times. And that’s the reason to meditate.

It’s not that we should never be wired up and stressed and at 10 there are times in life that demands that, but that can’t possibly be 24/7 even in the most intense of intense vocations. People who are on the front lines of taking care of other people, even they cannot go 24/7. The reason for that is because we’re human beings. We’re not machines.

We are Human Beings, Not Machines

We can’t ignore the fact that we’re human beings with hearts and minds, and interests and hobbies and friends and family and communities that nourish us.

We need that nourishment. It’s like a plant. It can’t remain in the burning sun 24 /7 without nourishment ever. Even in a desert there is night for some of the time, when the sun isn’t relentless, when desert plants get a break from the scorching sun.

And so with us, we need that nourishment. Meditation can be an important way of getting that nourishment. It can also be an important way of helping us to realize there are also other types of nourishment that are necessary.

Meditation Isn’t the Only Nourishment We Need

There are many other types of nourishment that we need.

Like being with family, like not thinking of stressful things,  like listening to music or making music, like looking at art or making art, like having normal social activities.

All of those are really important to get through hard times.

If you have an established meditation practice, meditating during stressful times will just be a normal behavior, but what to do if you don’t have an established meditation practice? How do you meditate during stressful times?

The only way to do it is one breath at a time.

As I’m talking to you, just take one breath and just try to watch that breath just to try to relax it. Just try to watch that breath. Just tried to relax into that breath. Just try to be in that breath.

The Only Way to Meditate: One Breath at a Time

Every single meditation instruction of the ancients says that we only live one thought at a time.  We only live one breath at a time. And we need to bring attention to this idea over and over again during the day.

Just remind yourself, the only thing you have control over right now is the next breath. So just relax into the next breath, even if it’s for a single breath. That’s okay. That’s the whole point of it.

A lifetime of meditation is built up one breath at a time and during hard times. That’s all we need to do.

Just one breath at a time. Just one moment at a time.

Let’s try it.

Breathe in, calm, ease, relaxation.

Breathe out, tension, heaviness, worry.

Just one breath. Let’s try another one.

Breathe in calm, ease, relaxation.

Breathe out, tension, heaviness, worry.

That’s the fundamental of meditation.

We’re not looking for enlightenment. We’re not looking for some fantastical experience.

We’re just looking to love ourselves during hard times. We’re just looking to be kind to ourselves during hard times. That is the only important. Value.

We Need to Take Care of Ourselves.

The only way to meditate during stressful times is one moment at a time. One breath at a time to take care of ourselves, to take care of ourselves physically, financially, emotionally.

To take care of those we love.

During stressful times, all we can do is take a moment here and there during the day and take a breath to remind ourselves that we can only live life one thought at a time, one breath at a time, and then do the best we can possibly do from that thought and that breath forward.

This is the real meditation, the meditation of life.

We can’t expect anything else from ourselves during stressful times.

We can’t expect to be some fantastical meditator or to achieve some other worldly state.

We have to be more kind to ourselves during stressful times than at any other time. We need to have more love and compassion for ourselves during this time.

And the way to do it is to remind ourselves, one thought at a time, one breath at a time, to breath in in calm, ease, relaxation and then move on and do the tasks we need to do.

And then whether it’s 15 minutes later or an hour later, or two hours later while doing our worldly tasks, to give ourselves another breath.

We all deserve kind, gentle, loving breaths for ourselves and by giving them to ourselves, we’re better able to do all the other tasks that need to be done.

This is the only way. The only attitude you can have during stressful times. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.