When people first start meditating, they can quickly become disheartened. After all, we often look to these practices to calm the mind and the body and feel better, right?
So when people sit down to meditate for the first time, it can be disappointing to experience the monkey mind—thoughts that just won’t stop coming at you from all directions! And if people are hoping to not have any thoughts, they oftentimes feel like meditation may just be one more thing to judge themselves as “not good enough”.
It’s no wonder people stop meditating shortly after they start. Why on Earth would anyone want to sit with the mental chaos and then the potential physical and emotional pain that arises when there is nothing else to distract ourselves with?
I believe this initial frustration and subsequent aversion to meditation can be reduced if we go into the practice with a different intention and set of expectations. Yes, we want to be calm and able to handle the stressors of our lives, and meditation, with practice, can certainly help with that.
Ultimately, however, meditation is here to teach us how to experience the whole of our lives—the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows—with an open and compassionate heart. So the intention is to turn towards our experience and not to stifle or silence it.
Initially, that experience will likely be the monkey mind and a whole host of physical sensations and emotions. Instead of feeling like we have to fight these and change them, we start by creating an anchor, or focus point, to continually bring our attention back to. Oftentimes people use the breath as the anchor, but if the breath is uncomfortable or doesn’t feel like a good focus point, it’s possible to use a part of the body like the feet or hands to ground your attention in.
The analogy of training a puppy is oftentimes used with the process of meditation. We sit, and we place our focus on our anchor, and then…”stuff” starts coming up in the mind, body and senses. So, just as when we train a puppy to sit, he runs off time and time again and we gently bring him back, this too is the practice with meditation. We bring our attention back to our anchor, over and over and over again. So, the practice is not shutting down what is arising but gently shifting our attention so that everything arising slowly becomes soft background noise.
Now advanced meditators can reach states where the mind is very calm, but we don’t need to have that as a goal from the beginning. These states come naturally, without effort, with more meditation practice.
And then we might ask, why would I want to turn towards pain and difficult emotional states arising? It’s much easier to tune them out or distract myself. Even if we turn away, it doesn’t mean the difficult emotions and pain aren’t there. We’re just ignoring them for a temporary period of time. Eventually, they will make themselves known, and we’ll be forced to handle them at some point in our lives. Meditation allows us to gently turn towards the pain, bit by bit, so that through shining the light of compassionate awareness, our deeper pain can finally heal.
You may also find that by becoming mindful of the difficult situations, you are also more present when the joy and pleasant experiences arise.
Through the practice of meditation, we open ourselves to experience all of life. This, to me, is living to our fullest potential. It doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and roses all the time, but it does mean that when the sunshine and roses are out, we are able to bathe in their beauty and feel the depth of being fully alive.
If you’re interested in learning more about establishing a meditation practice and living more mindfully, please contact me here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.