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You CAN Meditate!

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In the article “Why IS meditation made out to be so important?” I discussed why it is vital for developing spiritual awareness and why resistance to doing it can arise within us. Being alone with ourselves is a threat to our mind/ego. This resistance can manifest in many ways ranging from dismissing the notion of meditating entirely to the keen enthusiastic individual who wants to do it but can never find the time and so keeps putting it off. Fear of going within and seeing what is there is usually behind it all.

This threat to our ego is one of the causes of not being able to switch off the mind in meditation. We are trying to switch something off that doesn’t want to be switched off because it thinks our wellbeing depends on it doing its job i.e. thinking, worrying, looking into the future, dwelling on the past etc. Not being able to relax or quieten the mind are common reasons for people giving up on meditation.
The more stuff we are holding onto, the more active the mind will probably be (not just in meditation but all the time). Many of our ego created roles such as the Achievers, Perfectionists, Controllers, Worriers and the like live in our heads all the time constantly thinking and planning. All that future-based thinking can lead to us being ungrounded and our energy all mental and uncentred. In these instances we may have almost constant mental chatter to the point where we are so used to it that we may not even be aware how much the mind is active until we come to try and stop it in meditation.
I also feel that not feeling comfortable with relaxation is another reason for not progressing with meditation. Relaxation can feel threatening if we are traumatised or insecure and we can often only get so far; remaining vigilant, on edge or tense in our body to some degree. We’ll meditate but not really let go. That’s OK. With time, understanding and awareness, this may well ease. But it becomes a problem when we compare our progress with what others say they are achieving.

Assuming you made it to your meditation class we can look at what can happen in meditation. While we’re on the topic of classes, I would advocate learning meditation from an experienced person as they can guide you through the common concerns and pitfalls. Please be aware that there are many different types of meditation so shop around (Zen, Transcendental, Buddhist, Taoism, Sufism, Christian, Spiritualist, Yoga etc, etc). Find a form of meditation that you are drawn to and where the energy of the group you are in feels right too. Don’t just go to the local cat and crystals lady and assume that’s all there is (before anyone writes to me, I love my cats and crystals!).

 

Here are a few tips to help foster a realistic attitude towards meditation and reduce the risk of you giving up before you realise all of the gifts it can bring you:

  1. After a life time of their mind/ego running their lives many people expect it to magically shut up, be silent and let them find bliss in one sitting. It’s not going to happen; get over it. How many of us expect to be able to sit at a piano having had no lessons and play a meaningful and accomplished tune in one hour? I would hope the answer is none of us but that is the attitude that many people have with meditation. You probably WILL have problems quietening the mind; sometimes it will not shut up. Accept and understand that. Some days will be worse than others for a while. Meditation requires gentle, loving but determined training of the mind. If you are very stressed or hyper-vigilant, you may need to be patient with yourself.

  2. Meditation will probably not provide a consistent experience. You may well have a wonderful meditation and think you’ve cracked it only to find that the next two sessions are filled with intruding thoughts about work. Some days you will lose yourself and not know or care what time it is while other meditations will be spent looking at the imaginary clock in your mind counting down the seconds to the end. It takes time to get consistent results and the ground work (practice) must be done. No meditation is wasted; you are learning a skill. Ajahn Brahm says in his book “Mindfullness, Bliss, and Beyond” that we should view it like the working week where you work Monday to Thursday for no pay (the bad days) then on Friday you do the same work but you get paid(the good day). You would not have been paid had it not been for the bad days you worked. You had the good day because of the work you did on the bad days.
    Do NOT chastise yourself if the meditation didn’t live up to the ideal. Your growth is an exercise of acceptance as well, so accept what is and know that tomorrow is a different day. If you do not then you will begin to associate meditation with what you see as failure and begin to colour the experience unnecessarily.

  3. Approach the whole thing with an attitude of kindness and gentleness. When you take a breath in, do so gently and with appreciation. Do the same when your mind wanders by lovingly pulling your focus back to the breath or whatever you are asked to focus on. I liken the experience to gently correcting a puppy when it pulls and tries to go its own way. Just lovingly and patiently pull it back to where you are. Accept that the mind is doing what it knows and pull it back to the here and now with the same patience and understanding. Bullying yourself to mastery is simply repeating the mental programmes/roles that create stress in your life. I find that when my mind wanders I lose contact with being in my physical body so I pull my focus back to being aware of my body again.

  4. Using the piano analogy again, do not expect to get the results everyone says are there to be had if you do not practise. Once a fortnight in a group for an hour, while it may be relaxing is not really training the mind. It needs to be done regularly. You will get out what you put in.

  5. If you are in a group, do not see it as a competition with the other group members. This is the ego programmes of the “Expert” or “Achiever” or Perfectionist” trying to run the show and they are exactly what you are trying to release yourself from. Meditation is about letting that stuff go. Your progress is your progress and that is all. Your experience has no meaning for anyone else neither does theirs for you. Someone in your group may experience something magnificent in the same meditation session where you couldn’t stop thinking about strangling your boss, but this is just one day. You may have many of those days. The more you get caught up in what others are doing and what you are not doing, the further you move away from what is waiting for you. If you compare yourself to others you cannot be yourself.

  6. Guided meditations that take you on a journey can be very relaxing but they can just be another form of mind activity/distraction albeit more focussed. They can be very useful for stress relief and as a stepping stone to deeper meditations but my feeling is that prolonged silence is where the gain is to be made if you want to develop spiritually. Your true self awaits patiently in the stillness and silence.
If you are uncomfortable with silence start by introducing it gradually into your life. I used to be so hyper-vigilant that I had to have the TV or radio on as background all the time if I wasn’t busy and I avoided silence and stillness where possible because I did not want to be alone with myself. Over time I learned to feel safer with silence and that opened the door to going more deeply into stillness.

 

© Phil Grant unless otherwise attributed