In truth, meditation can be hard to do. There, I said it. And that’s totally okay.
It can seem really intimidating when somebody else seems to be great at meditation, while you sit there and your mind just bounces all over the place. You’re supposed to think about nothing, but every moment that ticks by, you find you have a new thought, and every time you have this new thought you suddenly have the general sensation of “shit! I’m just not good at this thing.” And when you have that thought it just makes you feel bad, and then we’ve totally lost the thread of what we’re supposed to be doing in meditation in the first place, which is simply accepting ourselves in a non-judgmental way! This is exactly the skill we need to train: to not feel bad about ourselves. If meditating actually makes you feel bad, something’s seriously amiss. Perhaps you’ve attached too much attention to “how am I doing?” instead of giving free reign to just doing it. Very Zen, I know.
So let’s dial this back to zero, back to the “beginner’s mind,” where we’re not going to be good at something the first, 10th 100th or even 10,000th time. This step has one rule: There’s no judgment; there’s just the doing of it. It’s a practice, literally. Remember, everybody’s mind wanders. That’s a good thing, a natural thing. You have a beautiful, productive, imaginative brain that has tons of thoughts, that loves ideas, that moves from one to another at seemingly lightening speed. This is a human function to celebrate.
What we’re doing in meditation is teaching you to train your mind. And you train your mind in this way: every time you have a thought and your mind wanders, we merely notice it and bring it back to a chosen object of attention like your breath. When you’re first meditating it can seem very frustrating to you that your mind keeps wandering, but it’s actually okay, because the point is not to stop your mind from wandering. Sorry if this is some kind of spoiler for you (!) but the point of meditation is not to get your mind to not wander, but to precisely notice that it wanders, and then to bring it back.
Training your brain this way is kind of like going to the gym. Every time you notice your mind wanders and you bring it back, it’s like doing a rep at the gym. The more your mind wanders, the more you notice and bring it back, the more reps you get in at this “brain gym” of meditation.
Each time your mind wanders and you bring it back, you are saying, “I’m going to meditate now, and bring my mind off of this thought and back to my neutral object (like my breath)”. Each time you do this, you’re actually exercising a valuable choice to meditate and thus strengthening your brain by that action.
Now, you could choose to just follow that wandering thought, in which case either in that moment you’ve realized that you’re not meditating, which is fine, but at some other moment you may choose to realize this and then decide to bring your mind back and complete the meditation circuit, if you will.
Every time you complete this circuit is a moment of celebration — a moment of recognition that yes, you are tracking your mind, and yes, you are therefore meditating! Rather than getting frustrated for these wandering thoughts, be at peace with the wandering mind and experience the joy of choice, the joy of the open possibilities suggested by that choice. This small action of choice, in other words, can amplify out in amazing ways, freeing you up to make new choices in your life. If there are times when you’re on autopilot and not consciously moving through life, meditation can attune you to catch this, helping you to identify new choice points or opportunities to be conscious and present. You can choose where you want your attention to go and to where you want to direct your life.
When you embrace your mind and show it love, affection and compassion, you can luxuriate in the freedom of being non-judgmental and accepting of yourself. It’s ok to do. Don’t worry! No one is judging.
Originally published at medium.com
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