"If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent."
~ Ani Pema Chodron
Anyone who has every attempted any form of meditation will generally agree on one thing - it ain't always easy.
Our minds are slippery beasts, or naughty monkeys as the Buddha once described. All of us at some stage no doubt have been perplexed by the inner workings of our minds, when thoughts won’t sit still and our minds won’t switch off, these can be the precursors to anxiety and insomnia - eventually leading to fatigue, depression and physical disease.
As a footstep in the quest to figure out the human conundrum, It’s really important that we learn to tame the monkey mind - and to this effect the practice of meditation is wonderful stuff, with proven results in managing all of the aforesaid conditions.
Yet it ain’t easy, but it is possible.
A meditation practice will generally ask us to work with a certain technique, the observation or ‘witnessing’ of thoughts used in mindfulness practices is a common one, where we are asked to observe our stream of thought from an impassive objective place.
Ultimately this practice (and it does take practice) can lead us to a place where we are more aware of the stream of thoughts, where there is more space between them and where we have a clearer, calmer relationship to the thoughts - acknowledging them more as clouds moving across a sky than a representation of our identity. Acknowledging that ‘I am having angry thoughts right now, rather than being stuck in the idea that ‘I am an angry person.’
Yet this practice takes effort - and this is where the deeper payoff of meditation can begin to show.
Anyone who has sat themselves down and attempted to observe the stream of thought will soon find themselves daydreaming about something else entirely. That is as much of the practice as the focussing itself.
Different techniques will deal with this in different ways - but commonly the idea is to return our awareness GENTLY to the task at hand - focus on the candle, observe the breathe, witness the thoughts.
We will need to repeat this process a thousand times over, time and again, returning to the technique.
We seek along the path, we fall over, we GENTLY pick ourselves us again, this requires effort.
We put ourselves under mental duress, we examine our relationship to effort.
I tried to focus, I failed (and you will) = I am a failure (you are not).
I tried to focus, my mind wandered, I noticed it wandering, I returned to the practice.
And I observed my relationship to this experience. How did I feel when I caught my mind wandering for the gazillionth time? Frustrated? Like a failure? Wanting to give up? “I’m no good at meditation” From my conversations with fellow teachers & students, these seem to be common refrains.
Yet with practice, and over time, and perhaps with some reminding, we come to accept that we are probably never going to achieve perfect concentration, it is the minds nature to think - and it will always want to jump around.
Observing this process in the practice of mediation can give us great insight into how we operate within other realms of our daily life. When I try and fail do I get angry with myself? Do I give up on things? Do I allow my mind to wander freely? Am I too hard on myself?
Meditation can & should be a journey of great personal discovery and development of self knowledge.
If we soften into the journey, have fun with it, make a commitment to attend to the practice regularly, but lightly, with a sense of joy, we create the paradigm shift, the practice becomes fun, a game we play with our mind. The sense of adversity is relaxed and our relationship to effort will exponentially improve.
We are going to be playing this game of the mind called meditation for a long to time to come, there is no rush, so let's do our best to enjoy the journey.