Over the course of my time teaching meditation and mindfulness, I cannot count the number of times I have heard “It’s just not for me…I can’t quiet my mind enough to meditate,” or “I can’t, I am bad at it.” Does that resonate?
I understood. I, too, was a culprit of an incessant mind. I prided myself in my NYC days for being called an octopus, seemingly capable of attending to eight tasks at once. I, too, initially feared that in quieting my mind, I would lose that “powerful edge.”
However, experience taught me that meditation did not inhibit my ability to think quickly, but instead increased my ability to respond thoughtfully. And the more I gleaned the benefits, over time I adapted a witty retort I once heard:
Claiming your mind is too busy to meditate, is like saying you are too dirty to take a shower.*
While true, it’s taken years and a more profound understanding to finally grasp: Meditation is NOT about clearing the mind. The mind wanders. It is what it does.
Meditation, instead, is about habituating the mind to a chosen point of focus, again, and again, and again. Whether the point of focus is your breath, your body, a guided meditation, the sounds around you, a tennis ball (the list can go on)…each time the mind wanders, and you return, you are rewiring your brain and building new neural muscles.
Research shows that with only eight weeks, the practice of mindfulness and meditation rewires and builds areas of the brain related to memory, learning, and empathy, and rewires areas related to stress.
As we develop the skill to habituate the mind back to an object of focus, we not only increase our ability to focus, but we also discover a new control over our mind. No longer do we feel like our mind has a life of its own that we cannot regulate, especially when fears or anxieties run rampant.
Ultimately, we access greater internal equanimity, greater peace of mind, and even a sharper mind. In truth, meditation bolsters nearly every leadership development and personal development skill out there. Who doesn’t want that?
So then, how do we meditate? Especially when the misconception is that meditation is about clearing the mind? One of the most effective approaches to meditation is to see it as a four-stage process, with the third and fourth stages being equally critical to stage one.
First, you are present.
You are focused on the breath, your body, the guided meditation – a specific, chosen object of focus.
Second, your mind wanders.
It wanders to what’s going on in the world, to your endless task list, an argument, something else you “should be” doing at that moment.
The brain LOVES to be productive, so it will likely reach for anything that seems “more productive” at the moment, including deciding what you are having for your next meal.
Third, a light bulb illuminates in the recesses of your mind.
I am no longer present.
Often, a little voice articulates, or rather harshly admonishes:
I am no longer ‘meditating!’
Pausing here: This is part of meditation. This moment is one of the most potent, brilliant moments in the process. The moment that you have noticed your mind is elsewhere is HUGE: How often are you aware of where your mind is?
I love James Joyce’s astute quote:
Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.
This brilliant, light bulb moment of awareness is part of meditation, and it enables the next critical stage.
In the fourth and final stage, you “unhook” from that thought.
You do this no matter how tempting or consuming the thought is, and consciously bring it back to your initial, intended point of focus.
Meditation is just as much being in the present moment as it is noticing where your mind wandered to, and then “unhooking” from that thought.
Everyone cycles through these four stages, be it a novice meditator or the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama merely has more practice, notices the wandering more readily, and refocuses more rapidly.
Ultimately, the practice is like going to the gym. Some days will be a tougher “work out,” while others will feel stronger, and yet, every time you cycle through those four stages, it’s like picking up a weight. Each time, your mind gets stronger.
Originally published on Ellevate.
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