I speak to a lot of people who express an interest in meditation and have tried it out for themselves briefly before giving up. And so often I hear exactly the same words: ‘Meditation is so difficult, I just can’t stop my thoughts!’ It seems that many people have tried it once, been barraged and assaulted by the sheer volume and activity of the content of the exposed monkey mind, deemed the experiment a failure and given up on the journey before it’s barely begun. There seems to be a widespread misconception regarding what meditation involves that sets people up for failure. The following are some suggestions which may help.
1) Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. In fact meditation does not even have to be about actively trying to do something at all. Of course there are many different types of medition and some do involve actively shaping the contents of your mind, but for those new to the path don’t worry about them for now.
2) Instead just try observing your thoughts. Sounds simple hey? Granted it might not be easy but the underlying aim is straightforward and it will get easier in time. Sit there, close your eyes, and let your mind do its thing. Watch, witness, observe. Do not judge, and try not to attach to your thoughts. When this happens – and it will – just come back to your breath or the sensation of ‘now’. Observe the rise and fall of your abdomen, reconnect with your body and recommence. Let your thoughts arise and fall away. Observe how they start, are present for a while and then disappear. Be aware of their transient nature.
3) Becoming attached to or lost in a thought is not in any way a failure, it is a key part of the process. As you gently come back to ‘now’ after each time you get lost, do not be annoyed. Know that you are learning the workings of the mind. With regular practice this will happen less and less often and in time you will find that by witnessing the contents of the mind in this way your mind will naturally quieten, and your thoughts will eventually ‘stop’, replaced by oceans of emptiness. And then they will start again and the practice will continue. This is the way of the path.
4) There are many ways to meditate. Go to a few different classes and find a style that suits you, or make up your own style using elements of what you’ve learnt.
5) Meditation rewards regular practice. Try and give time everyday to meditation even if it is only a few minutes. Start small and work your way up. One minute a day is better than nothing. Master that minute and try two minutes the next week, nothing wrong with that at all. Try and get up to twenty minutes or more for your eventual daily practice. Through witnessing how thoughts are formed in the stream of your awareness, in time you will find you develop a greater freedom to choose how to respond to the contents of your mind. This freedom results in greater peace of mind and you will find that at the times you need it that state of mind will become more readily available. It won’t stop life from being a journey of ups and downs but it will empower you to choose what to make of your experience as it arises.