It’s very easy with meditation to run into road blocks straight away, get very frustrated, think you can’t do it and give up. It doesn’t have to be this way. Meditation can be fun, fascinating and indeed effortless. It can lead to big changes in the way you lead your day-to-day life. One way to clear the runway, is to think of it in terms of three pillars: the approach, the practice and the integration.
When you jump into the practice without knowing how to approach it, it’s very easy to get stuck, and many people do. Usually the process goes like this:
1. You have an idea that meditation requires you to clear your mind of thoughts.
2. You try you very hard to do that.
3. You realize you can’t and get frustrated.
4. You judge yourself to be no good at meditation
5. You either struggle on for a while or give up straight away.
This shows how important the approach is. If you get it wrong it can lead to you making zero progress – or perhaps feeling even more self-critical and frustrated than before you started.
It all begins with an unhelpful, and unfortunately very pervasive idea, that you need to stop thoughts in order to meditate.
A useful metaphor that Andy Puddicombe from Headspace uses is that of your thoughts being traffic and your task is simply to watch them from the side of the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s rush hour and the road is jam-packed, or 2am and there’s barely a car to be seen, your job is still the same: just watch the traffic.
When you try to stop thoughts it’s like walking into the middle of the M25 to try to bring all the cars to a stand still. Would that lead to inner peace?!
One realisation that this leads to is that there are lots of thoughts that we have that we can’t control. Of course it’s possible to think about something when you choose to, but how long before a seemingly random thought jumps in and before you know it you’re thinking about something completely different.
If we really could control our thoughts surely people would block out all the unpleasant ones and only have nice, happy peaceful thoughts. It doesn’t work like that though!
What does lead to having a calm and stable mind is being able to let go of trying to control the thoughts and just let them happen, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. The aim is to treat them all with the same evenness of mind. This is called equanimity.
Many people find the idea of trying to control thoughts very difficult to let go of. So often, I tell people not to do it at the start of the meditation and then at the end they say “That was really difficult, I couldn’t stop the thoughts!”
It’s such a relief though, when you do adopt the attitude of anything goes, and often, ironically, that is when the thoughts do calm right down. Contrary to so many other teachings in our culture, the secret is to try less hard and do less.
This is the first pillar and there’s more to say. Tune in next week for more on how to not get stuck before you’ve even started!
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