“I can’t clear my mind – it just isn’t for me”
“My mind is too frantic to meditate properly”
When people talk to me about meditation, those are the most common sources of resistance I come across. To meditate correctly you need to be able to clear your mind and only focus on your breathing without interruption.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation.
It’s easy to imagine that the well-practised meditating monk can sit down and clear their minds without any problem. The belief is – for us to be able to meditate, we must do the same.
Mindfulness Meditation is a Practice.
First, let us understand mindfulness.
Toni Bernhard views it as paying attention with care.
Not carefully paying attention. Paying attention with care.
The difference is slight but important. When you carefully pay attention, you spend your energy on making sure the object of your attention always stays that way.
When you pay attention with care, you begin to invite small amounts of compassion. Bernhard tells us, if you see a child run into the road, you don’t simply remark “A child in the road in front of a speeding car.” Your first instinct is to make sure that the child is OK because you care.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing on your breathing (or another anchor like sounds, your chest rising and falling etc) and separating yourself from your thoughts.
We try our best to notice when thoughts occur and bring ourselves back to our chosen anchor. And we do so with care. Without judgement.
Joseph Goldstein has a wonderfully simple phrase that helps us when our mind begins to wander.
“And Simply Begin Again”
It’s what minds do
Our minds will always have thoughts flying through them! Always! They come and go. Meditation helps us appreciate that they leave instead of getting lost in the story line they present.
I’ve been meditating reasonably consistently for over four years and I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve had this moment of complete clarity and an empty mind.
Even when this moment of complete peace does happen, it is interrupted by my wandering mind. And that’s fine. We softly bring our attention back to our anchor and continue. At the beginning, we might have to do this a lot. It’s also tempting to become angry at ourselves and determine we’re bad at this whole ‘meditating’ thing.
It’s what minds do. With practice, as we become better at paying attention with care, we will notice that it still happens.
From the perspective of mindfulness, it doesn’t matter what arises.
The important difference between the novice and the person with years of practice isn’t that they have the clearest mind in the world or that they are always in the present.
They know it’s OK to simply begin again. To refocus their attention to their anchor with the appreciation that thoughts come and go.
It’s OK to not have a completely clear mind when meditating. With practice, you’ll slowly learn to compassionately bring your attention back to the place you choose.
It’s something you continuously do.
You focus on your anchor. Have a thought wander into your attention. You notice it.
Then you simply begin again.
So you definitely can meditate if you want to. It’s a practice – over time, it’ll be easier to focus.
Your mind will wander – it’s what minds do. Pay attention to that with care. Then simply begin again.
Here’s more on meditation and mindfulness:
- A Very Short Guide to Meditation
- The Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows
- Mindfulness is Beautiful
- Simply Be.
As always, thank you for reading.