Recently, a friend within my circle told me how much she needs to meditate because she needs some peace and quiet. Another friend chimed in about how she gave up on trying to meditate because her mind is too active. While I applaud anyone who’s ready to begin the journey of meditation, I’m here to tell you the first comment is not a reason to start meditating, and second is not a reason to stop. It is a myth that meditation makes your mind still or peaceful.
You must know even the most enlightened human beings have thoughts during meditation. The nature of the mind is to think. You can no more remove thoughts from the mind than you can clouds from the sky. Sure, you can have blue days with fewer clouds, but the clouds are always there. Same goes for the mind in meditation. The mind can oscillate between more thought-free time and complete monkey mind and anything in between.
The meditation master, Henepola Gunaratana says, “Somewhere in this process [of meditation], you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way and you never noticed.”
The beauty of meditation is finally noticing thoughts. As the quote says above, many people don’t even realize the thoughts are there, much less how much they pull us around through life. Meditation gives us time each day to befriend (and maybe even reign in) the mind. Once we spend time sitting and watching our thoughts, it’s easier to notice when our thoughts want to pull us off task, or down the rabbit hole, or worse in real life.
When we notice our thoughts for what they are, we better discern whether to act on any given idea. Our minds don’t always tell us the truth, so we don’t have to act or speak, or even give attention to every idea. We can actually choose. This realization is extremely useful and liberating!
Instead of meditating for absence of thought, meditate to know your mind. Dedicate 10-20 minutes on getting to know your patterns of thought. It’s simple, but not at all easy. You must sit when you don’t feel like it, when your mind is racing, when you’re sleepy, bored, irritated. It takes discipline, and it takes time. Meditation is not a quick fix.
I recommend beginning the day with meditation. Get up 10 minutes early, set a timer for 10 minutes, sit with a lifted spine, in a comfortable position and watch your breath, and watch how hard it is to only watch your breath. Be aware of the thoughts that come in. Say to yourself with a gentle voice and no harsh tone, “thinking” and move back to the breath. Do this over and over until the timer rings.
Usually when we first start sitting, the mind won’t even allow for a full exhale to happen before it’s thinking. Eventually we are fully present for a full exhale AND a full inhale. Over the course of many months and years, we eventually create some space within our mind to rest and be present with the breath, and we are better at witnessing the mind.
As I said, it’s not a quick process, but it has changed my life. I’m not nearly as reactive as I once was, and I am so much more present to joy of any given moment. I encourage everyone to try it. Any time spent understanding the nature of your mind will be time well spent. It can be the first step to creating an amazing, awake life.