I meditate daily, and every time I mention meditation to someone, I get the same response over and over (and over and over) again:
I can’t meditate; when I try to my brain just kicks into overdrive.
Here’s the one thing nobody tells you about meditation though: that happens to everyone. Every single person who has ever sat down to meditate has been confronted with a barrage of random thoughts from what Buddhists call the monkey mind.
I’ve been meditating on and off for about four years now. At first I thought I was aiming to get some weird silence in my head where there would be no thoughts. Perhaps that will come in time. In the meantime though, for me the point of meditation is to notice the thoughts.
The point of meditation is to notice the thoughts.
I meditate with a mantra, which means I say the same thing in my head, over and over again. What usually happens is that I begin with the mantra, and then I remember something I should have done yesterday. Then I bring myself back to the mantra, and then I wonder about that conversation I had last week with that woman. And then I bring myself back to the mantra, and then I wonder whether it will be warm enough today to leave my jacket at home for the school run. And then I bring myself back to the mantra again.
This is meditation: the constant practice of noticing the thoughts, and bringing the money mind back to the mantra.
Over time, the thoughts subside a little and you develop a focus which can then translate into wider life.
An idea struck me the other day (while I was meditating, ironically). What if the thoughts that come up while we are meditating are the ones that have been buzzing around in the subconscious for ages, but couldn’t bubble their way up to the surface because the mind was always preoccupied with all of those general day-to-day thoughts?
What if when we meditate, by closing our eyes, sitting still and focusing on a mantra, we remove all the distractions that usually take up space in our heads, and we allow these other thoughts to come up and out? And if we don’t meditate, they’re still just there all the time, trying to find a way into our consciousness?
Another thing to consider: when we meditate and these thoughts pop up, and we notice them, who is noticing the thoughts? At a very basic level, our thoughts are just synapses and chemical reactions in our brains.
You are not your thoughts.
A good analogy for this is something I first heard from Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace:
Imagine your mind is the bright blue sky, and your thoughts are clouds. Sometimes there are lots of clouds, and you can’t see the blue sky – but if you were to get into a plane and fly above the clouds, you would see that the blue sky has been there all along.
The modern world is full to bursting with a million and one ways to distract and entertain ourselves. How many of us watch TV whilst also playing on our phones, updating Facebook or carrying on a conversation with someone else? We have become a multitasking society, where it’s not enough to do only one thing at a time; we must do as many things as possible at all times. We panic when caught short in a waiting room or at a bus stop without something to do other than sit and wait.
Little wonder then that when we do try to sit still, our thoughts rush in to fill the void. We’re not used to sitting still, doing nothing. And as I said above, because we’re so distracted by everything for every waking moment, the mind does not have time to process the things that go on during the day.
I believe that by taking the time to stop doing and just be I allow my brain to process what has been happening in my life, to come up with idea and to reveal how I really feel about things. When I meditate and thoughts crowd into my mind, I accept that these are all thoughts that couldn’t get to the surface while I was doing all these other things throughout the day. I notice the thought, let it go and move on.
Meditation is a skill we can all learn.
The point of meditation then is not to avoid thinking, but to notice the thought and let it go. Instead of allowing a thought to become a massive internal dialogue where I end up thinking about the same thing, I am learning to let the thought go before it becomes a big deal. Some days I am more successful than others, but that’s why it’s called a practice.
Meditation is free. There are thousands of little props and aids out there you can buy to help you to meditate; you can download guided meditations or buy a special cushion to sit on. But realistically, you don’t need any of it. You just need a few minutes of relative quiet and the desire to try more than a couple of times before giving up.