Meditation explained

Category : General advice 2nd December 2019

Inside Yoga 286 (2/12/2019)

Many people I teach tell me that they find meditation hard: so in answer to such comments, the following is an explanation which aims to make meditation more accessible and achievable as a practice.

When someone tells me that meditation is hard, I agree meditation is hard. This might not be the answer they expect, because surely I was going to show them how easy it really is! But I still thoroughly recommend the practice. This is why.

One the best teachings I received about meditation said that if someone can keep their mind quiet and focussed for a minute while meditating they are probably already a Buddha! (The Buddha’s name refers to his awakened state, full of clarity, present and in control of his mind.)

This one sentence, in one fell swoop, can disarm our nagging and negative mind which might keep saying I am crap at meditation, I keep getting distracted and thinking about nonsense. Our judgemental mind is our greatest obstacle to a successful meditation practice.

The point about this comment is that we all get thoughts popping up and distractions while meditating, and just seconds might pass before another thought or distraction, and this keeps happening. We can begin to feel disillusioned and unable to meditate by our distracted mind, but the key to meditation practice is not really the time we can keep the mind quiet but how we respond to our wayward and distracted mind.

Many people say to me “I cannot meditate because I cannot stop thinking…” but this is the very reason to meditate. Meditation is an exercise in mind control. Our mind.
Meditation practice is very much a practice of returning… to the breath awareness and silence between thoughts. We train ourselves to drop every thought and distraction and to return to the practice calmly: and repeatedly.

The key is to remain calm. We might picture a meditator as being calm because they have a silent mind and are focussed, but this is not case, instead a skilled meditator is able to remain calm with whatever arises in term of thoughts and distractions, because they know how to reclaim the silence.

And we can all do this: simply remain determined to keep returning to the practice. If we have a thought “oh, I am rubbish at this” this is another thought, on top of the previous one, so this doesn’t help the practice, just return to the breath awareness.

When practising we are not seeking anything, like the ultimate answer, the perfect state of being or whatever elixir we seek in life. Meditation is a pragmatic and simple practice: we give ourselves something to focus on to the exclusion of everything else, and stick with this, time and time again. The simplest practice is focus on our breathing, mindfulness meditation, called satipatthana, which is the bedrock of Buddhist practices.

So, yes meditation is hard because we do get distracted frequently, but it is not impossible to do, we can all do our best try and focus, and importantly as mentioned above, remain calm as we re-focus our attention after yet another thought has popped up. As we practice over time, the silence does become longer, and distractions less frequent, but it is never a case of “job done, we can go home now”!

Practice becomes easier because we become more adept and familiar with our mind and its habits – we do have repeating thoughts, and themes which keep coming up, so we become better at recognising them as they arise. Like a plants growing which we don’t want to grow, we learn to nip them in the bud before they grow any bigger.

Like an experienced surfer who can see at a distance waves to avoid and waves to ride, a meditator learns to recognise patterns of the mind.

The practice becomes easier in the sense that we learn how to return to the breath and silence our chattering mind; we might find it remains quieter for longer periods, but rest assured it will keep trying to distract us: that is why I said meditation requires hard work.

The result of the hard work (of meditation) is what we seek; we feel calmer, more relaxed and clearer, then we are better placed to deal with what our life continues to throw our way. During our meditation we might have had insightful thoughts, which revealed the answer to the meaning of life or more likely, we realised something important about our life, be it family, work or friends, the main themes our mind dwells on. It is the practice of meditation, the exercise of remaining focussed on our chosen object, for example, the breathing, which produces the benefits, not the goal we might have for our life; in other words, the oft quoted saying – the journey is more important than the destination.

Try it yourself, and do not judge yourself: trust the practice, it has been practised by millions of people for thousands of years, so it must do some good! Trust the practice.

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