Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why Your Mind Doesn't Care If You Meditate Well


Have you ever sat down to meditate, told yourself that this time you're really going to quieten your mind, only to find out that your mind has other ideas?

It's like you sit down and say, "I'm going to meditate," and you mind says, "Is that so?"

At such times, it can feel like whatever you do, you just can't get rid of your thoughts.

This typically leads to frustration – frustration that then makes it even harder to quieten the mind!

So what you do if you find yourself in one of these mental spins?

Well, to begin with, understand that your mind is actually a thought-making machine – one that will seldom (if ever) wish to be silent!

So don't get hung up on the need to experience lengthy inner silence when you meditate, because it's unlikely to happen.

What's more – and this is big! – your mind was never created to make you happy, rather to mastermind your survival.

So if you find your head full of plots and schemes and strategies  when you next try to 'bliss out' in meditation, then don't go beating yourself up, because your mind will simply be doing its job.


And it's not even like you can effort your way to success either.

Because if it is true that what you resist persists, then trying to use willpower to battle and resist your thoughts will only make things worse. Indeed, that will be a sure-fire way to ensure they continue to smash about in your mind.

So what we need is different approach. We need to find a way to make peace with our thoughts.

Tibetan Wisdom

I was pondering this problem years ago up in northern India when I learned of a Tibetan saying: "Trying to meditate without thoughts is like trying to have meat without bones."

This got me thinking, and it made me wonder whether thoughts really were the problem after all. For so long, thoughts had been the bogeyman of my meditation, but was I misreading the situation?

Because what if thoughts were never the problem?

What if the problem was that I either a) sought to oppose my thoughts or b) allowed them to suck me off into daydream?

Pondering such issues made me think about what it must be like to be an enlightened person.

I mean, how do enlightened people deal with their thoughts?

It also got me wondering whether a meditation master really could meditate all the time, and it was here that an idea came to me.

The idea popped into my head as I imagined someone famous like the Dalai Lama entering a crowded restaurant with his retinue of followers. I pictured him strolling in. I imagined all of the restaurant's diners lifting their heads from their meals to stare at him. I heard their expressions of surprise as he moved past them.

"Oh, is that the Dalai Lama?" "Look, it's the Dalai Lama!" "I can't believe it, it's the Dalai Lama!"

All around, there would be a buzz of excitement as he made his way through the restaurant.

At this point, a normal person would typically become self-conscious. But what of the Dalai Lama? Because wouldn’t a spiritual master like him remain unaffected by the hubbub around him?

In fact, better than just being unaffected, wouldn’t he be able to stay in a deep meditative state even as he made his way through the restaurant?

But if this is true to life, how would he do it?

How could he stay in meditative state with so much noise all around him?

Having thought about this, my answer was that he obviously wouldn’t buy into chatter and noise. He would treat them as you would the sound of birds twittering in the trees or a lawnmower going off in your neighbour’s front yard. Noises to be sure, but not noises you need pay any particular attention to.

Of course, you might say this all sounds rather difficult. But when you think about it, most of us have listened to music and remained in a meditative state.

And music is a kind of noise, right?

So sound or noise don't necessarily take us out of meditation. What takes us out of it is our reaction to it.

This got me thinking further, and I started to wonder what it would be like to treat our thoughts as if they were no different to the sounds all around us.

Because, in a sense, the only difference is the distance they are away from us.

In one instance, the noises are outside of us. In the other, the ‘noises’ (thoughts) are inside our head. But fundamentally, it’s all just ‘noise’.

So if the thoughts inside our head are no different from the noises outside of it, how should we treat them?

Simple.

We observe them and leave it at that. We don't try to manipulate or change them. We don't rage against them. We just think, "Oh, there's a thought. Interesting." And that's it.

This makes me think of another approach that some meditation teachers recommend: seeing the thoughts and images in our mind like you would images and sounds coming from a movie screen.

In this scenario, characters on the screen might be saying terrible things to each other, they might be shouting and screaming and erupting with all sorts of turbulent emotions but, as a spectator, you never buy in. Nope, when you watch a film, you just sit back and enjoy the show.

Of course, the challenge of all this – as you know – is to observe your thoughts without getting sucked into their ‘story’, without getting sucked into the daydream that results when you get tangled up in them.

You know what it's like: you're meditating, you're aware of everything around you – of your breathing, of the rise and fall of your stomach, of the squishiness of the cushion beneath you – and then, next thing, you jolt upright with a start and realise you've just spent who-knows-how-long lost in reverie.

Now, treating your thoughts like external sounds is a big help for not getting sucked into them, but another interesting approach is to use your thoughts to help anchor you in meditation.

In this approach, your thoughts are like a mantra – but a mantra that has no fixed form or shape.

This form of meditation – what I call "Thinking Meditation" – has many layers to it, but to get going all you need to do is think thoughts non-stop and observe the thoughts you're thinking.

To help train people to do this, I sometimes get them to force themselves to think for one minute straight.

The idea is that for this minute they can't have any breaks in their thoughts.

Weird, I know. But that's the technique.

In the exercise it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, they just need to keep thinking!

In other words, the thoughts could be as simple as "I'm thinking about doing this meditation and can't really think of anything decent to say, but I've got to keep forcing thoughts out so I can keep thinking."

The key to the process is to observe the thoughts as you think them and, if you do this, you'll discover something interesting: thoughts help anchor you in the present moment and generate a meditative state within the body.

What's more, if you have already been practising a modality that works with energy and have a flow of energy in your body, then focusing on your thoughts as you force them out will actually strengthen the energy flow in your body.

What this shows is that thoughts are definitely not the problem when we meditate, because in this instance, the thoughts we are thinking actually help us to meditate! So the problem, as we said before, is simply the way we react to our thoughts.

So if you want to experiment, try doing one of the two things we discussed in this article:

1.    Practise treating your thoughts as if they were the same as the sounds outside your body

2.    Force yourself to keep an uninterrupted flow of thoughts tumbling into your mind, being sure to observe your thoughts the entire time.

What's really neat about the second technique is that you can do it even when your mind is ridiculously busy.

Heck, you can do it when you're busy!

You can do it as you cook, as you clean, as you wait for a bus, as you go for a jog – whatever.

Since you typically have no shortage of thoughts, all you need to do is give them an extra nudge so they continue to flow uninterrupted, and then observe them as they tumble into your mind.

Do this and your ability to meditate ‘on the go’ will likely take on a whole new complexion.


(Article copyright 2016, Jeremy O'Carroll)

Postscript

If you’d like to go deeper into the intricacies and subtleties of these meditations, consider coming along to one of my
CBM meditation courses.

The C stands for 'core', and in the section of the course devoted to it, you will learn to connect with your energetic core, i.e. your chakras and Sushumna (an energy channel that goes from your base chakra up to your crown chakra).

The B stands for 'body', and in the section focusing on it, you will learn to connect to your energy body, i.e. your energy field and aura.

The M stands for ‘mind’ and, among other things, the course goes deeply into the meditations we have discussed in this article.

The final CBM meditation course for the year will be held on 3 September, and you can either enrol by 
clicking here or find out more by visiting the CBM meditation website.

If you have any questions, just reply to this email or call me on 1300 853 356 or 0417 328 457. I'd love to tell you more.

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