Meditation is a simple practice, so it is perhaps natural that we expect to find it easy, hoping to declare ourselves ‘good meditators’ soon after committing to a regular practice. When discomfort arises, many take it as a sign of failure and experience disillusionment or distress. At this moment of difficulty, it can be helpful to know that distraction is a universal experience, and that perseverance can provide an opening to profound change.
Meditation is designed for people of all backgrounds and situations. It is necessarily straight forward, with few instructions. The meditator brings themselves to physical stillness by sitting with a straight back, relaxed yet alert. With their eyes closed, the meditator may find that their eyeballs keep darting around, but in stilling the eyes, the rest of the body and the flow of breath also calm down.
While the body might be still, new meditators often report noticing that their minds do not follow suit. The mind races ahead, exploring ways to fix any problems in life. It looks to the past, revisiting memories, or travels into the future, anticipating new problems it might need to address.
The dynamism of the mind can be especially vivid for new meditators. They realise there is no Off switch and might observe a striking contrast between the stillness of the body and the energetic movements of the mind.
This experience of the monkey mind is completely normal and entirely human. The mind has been running the show for years and is resistant to any reduction in its role. It is useful for the new meditator to be open to accepting the busyness of their mind and avoid engaging in an unwinnable battle with it.
In taking up meditation and stilling the body, one comes more consciously into the present moment, and awareness of what is happening in the moment increases. Meditation can create the space to see just how busy the mind habitually is. At times, this might seem overwhelming and a fight or flight response kicks in. But what is needed is a gentle shift in attention, observing the dynamics in our internal world, rather than being carried away by them.
In the tradition passed on by the School of Meditation, a mantra is used. The meditator silently, inwardly repeats a one-syllable word, a focal point to gently return to.
In meditation, there is no failure. The mind moves then we notice it and gently re-centre ourselves. All of this activity is held within the meditation.
The mind and our thought processes cannot be discharged when we commit to a regular meditation practice. Meditation provides an opening to our deeper, truer selves. Having been identified with our surface selves, our beliefs, ideas and actions for so long, it is no wonder the mind goes into overdrive when we begin a new, slower practice.
With this practice, we gain awareness of a natural calm, one that is eternally present within and around us. During a meditation, one might notice plenty of restlessness. But there are moments of ease too, providing rest and renewal to the individual. Avoiding labelling a meditation ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is wise as it encourages an openness and curiosity about what is experienced.
Many new meditators report that their new practice has not just calmed their minds, but also made them sharper and more effective, increasing their creativity, insightfulness and empathy. These experiences are as universal and human as the presence of an active mind.
The School of Meditation runs four-week Introductory Courses throughout the year, the next one starts on February 24th. Click here for more information and to book.
Simple mindfulness meditation classes are offered free of charge online five times a week. Click here for details and the Zoom link.