3 Counterintuitive Meditation Tips for the Busy-Minded
"Let the battle begin." I think to myself as I adjust my ass on the cushion.
"Breathe in for a count of 1, 2, 3...and exhale, 1, 2, 3..." The disembodied voice soothes at us. "Notice the muscles in your face. Notice your brow, your eyes, your jaw...and allow all tension to melt away...1, 2, 3..."
"Melt" I think. "Cheese" I think. "Chuck E. Cheese" I think. "Man, what a terrible job that would be, to have to sit in a sweaty rat suit all day while kids run around punching and kicking you in your sensitive rat-parts...".
"Darn it! Back to the goddamn breath...1, 2, 3"
My adversary has made his first move.
I've never been any good at meditation. I've never been able to simply "sit and quiet the mind". When I would ask others their experience, I would be somewhat comforted to hear that this was normal, that most people have the busy-mind. But then they would say, "Don't worry, it gets easier with practice. Soon you'll be able to slip into that calm immediately and hold onto the quiet for the entire meditation."
This has not happened. I'm 8 years deep into a consistent meditation practice and I still battle the loud brain. My meditations are still fiercely distractible.
Though my practice of "getting still" has remained as painstaking as ever, my waking life has reaped immeasurable rewards. For any of you who find meditation difficult, full of distraction, or generally lacking in "serenity" this post is for you. I am not going to describe any techniques or be supporting/opposing any meditation styles. Instead, allow me to offer a new general perspective. Here are 3 attitudes which I've found terribly effective.
1. Treat Meditation like WAR!
My adversary is my mind and it is formidable indeed! Wherever and whenever it can it will try to sidetrack me, spark a mental tangent, and take me out of the moment. But this is OK! This is the way the mind is. I welcome the battle! I've come to think of meditation as a 20 or 30 minute session of exhausting redirection and refocusing. I get no peace while meditating. But I'm not after peace, I choose to fight.
Making this choice already alleviates much of the self-doubt I experience post meditation. Going in with this mindset allows me to come out without guilt. I don't hear the timer bell and think, "Aargh! I didn't find ANY peace. I didn't get to relax at all! I must not be doing this right..." Instead, I come to, wipe the sweat from my brow, and begin my relaxation in real life.
2. Trade Torture for Comfort
Most things worthwhile in life require hard work. The question now becomes, "what things in life have a favorably disproportionate hard-work to payoff relationship?" For me, meditation is hands down the most favorable of the unbalanced personal development strategies I've encountered. For every 20 minutes of incessant babble-minded torture I experience during my sit, I reap hours of easy focus and contentedness during my waking life.
This is the result I'm after. Sure, 20 minutes of blissful quiet would be nice, but I wouldn't trade it this direction. By choosing the opposite and enduring 20 minutes of hard work in solitude, I get to live quieter and I get to interact more tolerantly in the world. I suffer shortly in meditation so that I may be conscious and aware for the real fruits of life as they come along.
3. Play the Long Game
The only way I get more quiet and develop my awareness and focus is through the torture. The more relentless the mind is during a particular session, the more distractions it throws at me, the more chances I have to practice redirection. The better I get at this refocusing the more stable my emotions become in my day-to-day affairs.
When I go to the gym, I'm not looking for relaxation. I look for exhaustion. This is how a body builds strength and reinforces health. After going awhile, weights begin to lighten and a 10 minute mile gets easier. Do I stay at that threshold, allowing my workouts to stay easy? Of course not. My strength and endurance would plateau without added challenge and my overall health would see no benefit. Instead, I increase the weight and shoot for 9 minutes next time. An easy workout may feel nice, but that would be a silly goal to have wouldn't it?
The same applies to emotional health: An easy meditation does very little for me. However, a constant exposure to challenge develops my emotional stability. This is not an overnight matter, and this perspective does not deliver a quick fix. Instead, it lays the groundwork for an effective long-game.
To summarize: The goal of my meditations is not a calm 20 minutes of solitude. I'm seeking a calm life in the real world. This attitude is practical, measurable, and the pain/gain trade off is without equal.
I understand there are many practices out there, and countless ways to meditate, but if you are cursed with the busy-mind like me, try to see it as a blessing. Take up arms! Fght the good fight! There's plenty of peace waiting for you on the back end.