Meditation and My ADHD Thoughts With Teacher Adam Coutts, (PhD)
Adam Coutts has been teaching meditation and mindfulness for twenty years, mostly through weekly sitting groups, eight-week classes, corporate webinars, phone trainings, and one-on-one coaching. For the past couple years, he has been leading a “Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD/ADD” course in corporate settings and in phone trainings. He has sat meditation daily for thirty years and lived in monasteries in America and Asia for four years, meditating up to ten hours a day. He has also been on a journey of discovery about his own ADHD for about a decade now. Adam considers it an honor and a pleasure to relate to people through meditation teaching. Today we dip our toes into some well-honed methods and about how meditation works, specifically with the ADHD mind- enjoy!
In this episode Peter and Adam discuss:
1:25 – Intro and welcome Adam Coutts!
2:03 – How in the heck does someone meditate for 10 hours a day?!
3:38 – An hour in a float tank..
4:15 – What are the tricks? Do you let go and get in the zone? What are the basics?
6:20 – On paying attention to your body ref: Somatic self soothing
8:33 – Stop telling me to “relax!!”
9:38 – Two main wings to meditation..
10:00 – A few other types of meditation to help with agitation(s)
11:53 – We don’t necessarily need to empty our thoughts!
13:03 – “Motivational Deficit Disorder” -Russel Barkley
13:26 – On building concentration techniques, distraction, focus, thought and benefits
15:05 – On Walking meditation, other easier techniques and ADHD/ADD
17:07 – How to know when what’s best for you
18:14 – How can people find more about you and what you’re doing? www.IntroMeditation.com
18:49 – Thank you Adam! Guys, as always, we are here for you and we love the responses and the notes that we get from you; so please continue to do that! Tell us who you want to hear on the podcast, anything at all; we’d love to know. Leave us a review on any of the places you get your podcasts, and if you ever need our help I’m www.petershankman.com and you can reach out anytime via [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse!
19:20 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits
Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Faster Than Normal! My name is Peter Shankman. I am glad that you’re joining us today. Interesting morning. Interesting. Day-to-day it is, uh, here in New York. This is what’s called a third winter. So you have first winter, which lasts a few months, then you have a feaux spring. Then you have second winter, which lasts a couple of weeks. Then you have a fake spring and or full spring. And then you have a third winter, which is what we’re in right now, uh, where it’s about 22 degrees out where yesterday it was like in the 60’s. So it is very annoying and we’re hoping to get into actual spring, which comes next week, that lasts for about two days. And then we’re into 90 degrees and humidity Summer, which lasts until September.
That being said, welcome to another episode. Glad to have you. We are talking to Adam Coutts today. Adam has been teaching meditation and mindfulness for 20 years. It’s something that I need desperately, mostly through weaknesses in groups, eight week classes, corporate webinars, phone trainings, things like that, one-on-one coaching. But for the past couple of years, he’s been leading a mindfulness meditation for ADHD, ADD course in corporate settings. And in boundaries, he is daily for 30 years and lived in monasteries in America and Asia. I want that. Meditating up to 10 hours a day, even a journey of discovery about your own ADHD for a decade now. Okay. How the heck does one? I can’t meditate. If I set my apple watch to meditate for five minutes after three and a half weeks. I am hyper aware. There’s only been three and a half minutes. How in God’s name do you do 10 hours a day. And welcome.
Thank you. I appreciate it. But you were saying earlier, remind me. I live in the San Francisco bay area and our seasons are not the normal north American seasons at all. The hottest part of the year is late, uh, late September. How does one meditate? Um, I think start small. You know, that’s the classic advice that, that you hear from ADHD and meditation coaches? I think when I started meditating, I think I started with two minutes a day. The first time I ever meditated was in a Tai Chi class when I was 19. So that’s 33 years ago and I felt like I was going to explode. I was just overwhelmed with emotions and memories and swirling visual images and a lot of energy in my body. So when I started my daily practice, I started with about two minutes and then, um, you know, just like weightlifting, you know, you start with with just a little bit beyond your edge and then when you’re ready, you, you up it as, as your strength builds. So I also think that feeling of I’m going to explode that comes for a lot of ADHD people. It’s actually a good thing. It’s actually, um, not something to be avoided. It’s actually a big part of the benefit of meditation. I would say one of my teachers used to say, as meditators, we are trying to tolerate the intolerability of being human. I think that’s a challenge for everyone, but especially for ADHD people, we’re, uh, we’re special winners. We get to run up against that one really quickly and really with a lot of strengths usually.
Well, I mean, it’s interesting because I mean, I remember my assistant, Meagan got me a, um, uh, for my birthday one year, she got me an hour in a float tank. Okay. It was brutal. I mean, it was, it was brutal. I, I became hyper aware of everything, which is good. I believe everything, you know, I, it was, it was, but it was so I get why people like it, but it was so difficult for me to shut down. It was just so hard, so hard to, to let go. And I think that, that, yeah, when you already HD it’s, it’s, it’s even harder. Right? So, so what do you do? How, what are the tricks of, of letting go of it? Because I know meditation is beneficial. I know I tend to get, I think the closest I get to meditating is on a long bike ride, doing 60 or 70 miles and you just get into his own where you’re just, you’re just passing the time. But in terms of like sitting at a table, sitting on my bed or sitting like I’m sitting on the floor and trying to do that. It is, it is almost impossible for me, what I’m sure a lot of other people, what do you tell people? Um, you know, again, like you mentioned starting, you know, like lifting weights or whatever, but even just getting into the basics(?)
Yeah. Um, well, I want to, you know, my main teacher who, uh, when he was a child, he ells stories. He had really raging ADHD and, uh, you know, he failed all sorts of classes. And then he eventually became a professor of Physics and sort of a world renowned, uh, meditation teacher. He tells a story of, um, if you had a chunk of metal, and this metal was gold, but you knew it had some impurities in it. Nickel, cadmium, et cetera. And you wanted it to be pure gold. How would you purify it? Could you stare at it and be like, get out nickel and cadmium? It wouldn’t work. Well, what you have to do is heat that chunk up till it melts. And then the other impure metals, either float to the top of the bottom. I’m a, not a metallurgist. I don’t know. But it’s that heating up that allows you to purify it because it brings the impurities right to the, to the top or to, you know, to where you can see them. And he said, meditation is the same thing with our inner agitation. When we slow down, we heat up things can get very kind of like, I feel like there’s bugs crawling through my skin. I can’t sit here for another moment and that’s actually pretty valuable. You heated up the chunk of gold and you can, you can see the impurities right there to scrape them off. I think that, you know, the way meditation helps is you just tolerate it. You’re just open to it. You know, there’s tons of techniques that I teach. There’s tons of techniques out there. You know, if your listeners go, go online or go to some of the phone apps or buy a book, there’s tons of a techniques, my favorite technique for 30 years now. And the one that I do pretty much every day is just to feel the body. I do a technique where I notice where my attention is drawn in the body could be a pleasant sensation, could be unpleasant. It could be strong, could be subtle. Just I let my attention float in the body, wherever it wants to go. I hold my attention there for a couple seconds deeply and fully feel that, I say it’s like attention flowing into the body sensation like water into a sponge. I say the name inside my head of the part of the body. And then after a couple of seconds, I release and see if it wants to stay in the same spot somewhere else. If I notice that I’m thinking you know, which is almost all the time. I try notice the impact that the thoughts have on my body, or if there’s a body sensation, creating the thoughts. A lot of times some way that we feel like uncomfortable or really comfortable creates thoughts. If I feel an emotion, I try and notice where in the body that’s happening. If a sound impacts me, I try and feel where in the body that impacted. I often meditate with my eyes open. I recommend for beginners, especially ADHD, beginner’s eyes closed, but you know, if I see something that impacts me, I feel that.. my body for me, meditation is often it kind of shouldn’t be since there’s so many techniques out there. Sort of the meaning it has, for me, it’s often just somatic self self-soothing and somatic self soothing for an ADHD people, person is so crucial in so many contexts, like the social anxiety that comes up. Like I didn’t get all my to-do list stuff done. I, in fact, I screwed around all yesterday afternoon. I’m a big failure. And now I have to social areas around people and I feel like a fraud. And I feel like I got to go home and get stuff done. I don’t know. That’s been a big part of my ADHD. And just as I drive to the meeting with people just feeling where the tension is, my body and giving it space, um, you know, being friendly with it, loving it, just seeing it, just witnessing it, letting it dance it’s dance, and then it releases itself. And again, somatic self soothing when really emotional, when really wound up for any reason, somatic self soothing. To me, that’s the number one benefit of meditation as an ADHD person. And then there’s tons of other techniques that have their value as well.
It’s interesting. Everyone tells. The ADHD person to relax, to calm down. Yeah. I think that, that, that, you know, ‘sit down and quit disrupting the class’ was our, it was our mantra in school. And I guess when you hear that all the time, it’s usually said to you in a negative. Yeah. So, so as such, you probably do. I know, I think about it. When you think of meditation, when you, it, it translates in the ADHD brain into forced relaxation, gunpoint, relaxation. And if someone is holding a gun at you and telling you to relax, it’s probably the last thing you want to do. Right. And, but that’s how we grew up. That’s what we dealt with in school, with our parents, with every, Dude, relax, calm down. There’s that joke that, you know, telling women to calm down has it never has the effect of getting anyone to calm down. But at the same thing when you’re telling me to relax. It’s just going to make me hyper focus with the fact that I’m not. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, you know, the way I was trained to kind of traditional mindfulness meditation, there’s two main wings to meditation. There’s focusing your mind and kind of like empty, you know, the traditional emptying your thoughts and, you know, getting into a state of Zen where you’re really, someone could walk into the room and you wouldn’t even notice cause your attention so focused on the grass or something like that. That’s one part of meditation. The other is be one with everything. Life just is, as it is. And you just open to it and fully experienced life. However, it is now the way I was trained, as it goes sequentially, you learn how to concentrate them. And then you use that concentrated mind to experience things just the way they are. So, uh, I do think it’s valuable to try to chill out the mind on the breath- is sort of the classic technique- the way I was trained, at least, or walking back and forth with, um, really deeply feeling the souls of your feet. That’s another thing to concentrate on, you know, I’ve, I’ve heard some people on, on, uh, mindfulness teachers on ADHD podcast recommend walking meditation for ADHD people. Cause it’s less going at hard right angles that against digitation like sitting still is it’s more, um, you know, working with the agitation by walking. So learning how to focus the mind. I think there’s a value there. And I think if a person really does that for long enough, the body calms down the mind calms down. But I, I think, um, I think it’s important to have patience with that process. It can take years. I mean, I’ve meditated what, over 10,000 hours of my life. And still sometimes it’s just really hard for me to concentrate. My mind, I had when living in monastery has gotten to a point of just really crystalline and clarity where my mind is very tranquil, but that doesn’t last forever. Right? It’s like being an athlete, you work out a whole lot. You get in shape. And then you don’t work out as much, you know, you’re not in as great shape. So that focus hasn’t lasted my whole life, but I’ve developed that tool. And then I’ve used that tool to just let my body, my mind, all of who I am, just be the way it is and experience it. So that’s a really different kind of meditation and the way I was trained, that’s seen as the highest form of meditation. So if you have an agitated, mine, just have an agitated mind. Just notice it the way it is. It’s perfect. It’s just something to be aware of. If your body is about to explode, you know, and you’re trying to formally meditate as long as you can keep the tush to the cush and like, just let the body feel how it feels. It doesn’t have to feel any different. So, um, you know, I think thinking that we have to calm down and empty our thoughts and all of that, it’s like, that’s one goal in meditation. There’s certain techniques that aim for that. And I think it’s a useful thing to work towards without ever expecting we’ll get there, you know, perfectly. But I also think there’s a lot of kinds of meditation that just let all the craziness just be the craziness and just enjoy the circus. And, um, yeah. So I think really interesting.
That’s a really interesting way to think about it is the premise that you’re going to be. You know, you’re going to have your moment. You’re going to have your issues. Just go with them. Yeah. As opposed to, um, I guess as opposed to the uselessness of say fighting the ocean.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, I appreciate your, uh, your, you know, It’s one of those things like, wow, okay.. this is more than just an interview that actually makes a lot of sense, but again, you don’t, we’re not trained to think that way growing up with ADHD. Right. We’re trained to think that if we can’t relax that we’ve failed.
Yeah, well, you know, like, uh, like, uh, Russell Barkley says ADHD is, is an awful name for it. You know, the better name is motivational deficit disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity are the things that bug adults about ADHD kids. They’re not the main experience of being an ADHD person, um, that ADHD adult are experienced from the inside. So yeah, hyperactivity is what pucks, uh, you know, teachers and parents about, uh, about. Definitely.
You know, getting back to what I was saying. I think even that first kind of meditation concentrating the mind, um, you know, I lead that technique. I lead meditation on the breath or other, uh, concentration techniques regularly. And what I tell people is if you did this 10 hours a day in a monastery, you know, which is something a person builds up to like being an Olympic athlete, but if you did, you might get your mind really calm, but you as a corporate employee or just someone, you know, off the streets coming to my sitting group or whatever, you will have a ton of thoughts. You will have a ton of distractions. You will not have continuity of awareness of the breath. Probably unless you catch a good wave today or, you know, you’re just in a good mood, right. And noticing the mind going off to obsessive thinking or a strong emotion or an itch in the body, or, you know, the conversation happening outside the door. It’s not an error. It’s part of the value of the meditation. You learn a lot about. You know, how fast is my mind today? What actually is happening in my emotions, you know? And, and that bringing the mind back to the breath, bringing the mind back again and again, and you know, it can be frustrating. It can be like lifting weights or playing piano, scales, simple, repetitive work, but it’s building a strength. It’s building that strength of concentration that, you know, builds over time. So I think there’s a, that experience of like, um, yeah, my mind isn’t calm, but I’m trying to focus it. You know, even in that first kind of meditation where the goal is calm there so much value in the non-com there’s so much learning. There’s so much to work with. There’s so much. Uh, goodness. Um, and I think it’s very important to, uh, emphasize that to people that are beginning meditation. I also, if I may, I want to say something about the walking meditation.
You know, I’ve listened to some other teachers on various ADHD podcasts and they often recommend what I would say is making the meditation easier for ADHD people. And I think that’s great. I think, you know, anything that gets you to start the practice I’m in favor of- being a big meditation proponent. But I also think for, you know, some people even say an ADHD person should never meditate. It’s just going to have them feel like they’re going to explode. So don’t even do it. Um, which obviously as a meditation teacher and, uh, and uh, someone that’s made meditation a huge part of my life. I’m not in favor of that, that recommendation. I think meditation is great. To me, telling an ADHD person not to meditate is like telling a sickly person, well, working out will be hard for you so don’t do that. A sickly person is going to get all the more value from physical vitality than, you know, a normally healthy person, it’s all the more important for them to do it, even if it’s harder. So there are ways to make meditation easier and there’s ways to make it harder. Easier: Sit for shorter periods. Harder: sit for longer periods until you feel like you’re going to explode. Easier: uh, do walking meditation, most techniques you can do seated upright, you can do walking. Harder: Um, sit still, um, Easier: do a technique where you just opened the however you are busy mind. Great. Just notice the busy mind. Harder: do more of a concentration technique where, what you’re really trying to do is, um, focus the mind set on the breath. Now, I think there’s a great value in going on to, you know, uh,.. Harder: sit by yourself where it’s just your own willpower. Harder: I mean, Easier: sit with a group where the groups sort of vibe supports you. Harder: Sit by yourself and silence and guide yourself. Easier: Get a phone app, you know, with that voice pops into your ear every 90 seconds, come back to the breath, be aware of your thoughts, just let things be, um, you know, be friendly with whatever you’re aware of, notice the details of what you’re aware of and really experience the richness. So I think there’s value for ADHD people to know when to go on the easier side of that spectrum, back off, sit for shorter walk, do phone app, and when to really challenge yourself and say, this is going to be hard, but I’m going to heat up the chunk of metal to strip the impurities off and sit for longer. Sit in silence, sit still rather than walking, you know, sit by yourself. Um, I don’t think we should always avoid going through the harder side of that. I think though it’s helpful to know when we’re ready for it and when we want a challenge and when we want a good workout and you know, what’s just beyond our comfort level, not way beyond our comfort level, you know, a beginner weightlifters should not try and bench press 500 pounds, you’ll just rip your muscles or trust your sternum or something just three or four pounds beyond what you’re comfortable with. That’s your growth edge. And so I think knowing when to ramp. Speed up, you know, uh, turn up the heat, um, and make a little bit more progress. That’s that’s the wisdom of learning how to meditate and have a person’s own meditation practice.
Awesome. I love it. This has been a phenomenal interview. Thank you so much Adam!
My pleasure. I appreciate you having me on!
How can people find you if they want to learn more?
My website is www.IntroMeditation.com There’s a pop-up that invites you to sign up for my email list, where I announce courses and classes and groups. Uh, I hope it’s okay for me to say I have a regular, um, group Tuesday night, 7:00 PM, California time. I also in 5 months probably am going to have in August of 2022, going to have a weekend ADHD for an meditation course.
Thank you so much and I may take a look at that. Thank you, Adam! Guys, you’re listening to Faster Than Normal. We had Adam Coutts today talking about meditation for the ADHD mind, which I found really, really far more fascinating than I thought I’d actually find it. That was pretty cool. Um, as always, we love to hear from you. If you want to leave us a review, you can do that at any of the sites like iTunes or Google play or Stitcher or wherever. Uh, I think even Alexa, you can do it on there. Cancel. Got it. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back with another episode next week and. Have a good one. And remember, ADHD is a gift, not a curse.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week!