Meditating With Brain Fog – Expanding Awareness To The Whole Body

In my ongoing saga with brain fog, today I tried the technique of expanding the awareness.

It’s common for the mind to become contracted around a small area of experience. This happens particularly when we have problems. A simple meditation practice is to push the awareness back out to a larger container.

In my case, the ‘issue’ is located in my head. When I first sit on the cushion to meditate, it’s the first sensation that I notice. The thought that comes with it is: ‘There’s a problem, and it’s here.’

My technique is to settle into my meditation posture, and let the mind start where it is – contracted to the numb sensation in my brain. Then gently push the volume of awareness out to a larger space – I chose the volume of my body. Every time I notice the mind has contracted again, I push it back out. This brings the other sensations of having a body into awareness. Now the brain fog isn’t the only thing happening.

Once I have this larger container for awareness, I can continue with my regular meditation routine. It’s not the same as before the brain fog, but it’s a lot better than being stuck.

Add Kindness To Your Mindfulness Practice

One of the biggest mistakes that a new meditator can make, is to become judgemental about their ability to be mindful.

The scenario is that a meditator is being asked to place their attention on an object, such as the breath. When the mind drifts, the student is to bring the mind back to the breath. However, instead of bringing the mind back, the student starts criticising themself for ‘failing’ to keep the attention on the breath. This is a mistake because the criticising thoughts compound the distraction.

There is a simple counter to this self criticism – it’s kindness. You should apply it proactively. So now the instructions are like this: Place your attention on the breath. When you notice that the mind is no longer on the breath, fill yourself with the quality of kindness. Then, remembering your original intention, ride the kindness back to the breath.

If you find it hard to bring the quality of kindness to life, then practice it. Mindfulness and kindness are the two legs of a beginners’ practice. You need them both, so you can move along.

A Problem of Meditating With Brain Fog

I’m still seeing my doctor to check out why this has happened, but I have acquired a relentless brain fog. It’s been over a year now. The symptom is similar to long covid.

The relevance to meditation is that my mind has this physical feeling of numbness. It dominates all other sensations of how my mind is. Knowing how my mind was, or ‘mind state’ as it’s sometimes called, was my main navigator in meditation sittings. It was always a subtle sense, but one which I was developing nicely.

If you are practicing mindfulness, you are often being mindful of something in particular. The breath is the most common object. But it’s not the breath itself that we are developing – it’s the mind. So, adding awareness of how the mind is, while attending to the breath, is where things start to get interesting.

Once we are able to pay attention to how the mind is, we can do two things. We can watch what the mind gets up to, and we can influence the state of the mind. The latter is called cultivation practice and I was really into this.

But my previous sensitivity of mind states has been swamped by this brain fog. I sit on the cushion, calm a bit, then look ‘up’ at the mind to see how it’s doing. And all I get back is numbness.

To be continued …

Why Did I Stop Meditating?

It’s strange that I stopped my daily meditation practice. I did it diligently for years and then one day I just stopped. Why would I stop doing something that was so enjoyable and helpful?

I think there were two reasons.

Firstly, the problems I had when I started meditating seemed to have gone away. So that initial impulse wasn’t there anymore. I had followed Mark Williams’ fantastic book, The Mindful Way Through Depression. I felt that I had built a resilience to depression into my mind so securely that the fear of falling into depression didn’t seem like a daily concern.

Secondly, I made meditation too complicated. As I progressed from the basics into richer meditations, I started to study a lot. With all those extra ideas for practice in my mind, I would sit on the cushion and be overwhelmed with options. Like a child in a sweet shop not being able to choose. There must have been some extra tension in that situation. Instead of it feeling like an exciting buffet of choices, it felt more like I was choosing from a large number of ‘shoulds’. I was aware of the problem but I didn’t address it.

So the cost started to feel greater than the benefit. It happened quite unconsciously. I stopped wanting to sit on the cushion. And then not sitting became a habit.