By David Jones
Yesterday a co-worker and I were talking about coping with life’s stuff. She said “I started meditating, but I’m no good at it.”
“Why do you think you’re no good at it?”
“Because I can’t sit and concentrate for very long. My mind drifts and I get distracted.”
I nodded. “Happens to us all.”
She furrowed her brow. “But how do you keep all those thoughts out of your brain?
I chuckled. “Well, I don’t really. I approach meditation differently. It’s not about stopping thoughts so much as letting them just come and go without grabbing on to them and letting them hijack my meditation.”
“And that keeps you from getting distracted?”
“Well no, but it’s how I accept the distraction. Thoughts will barge in. I’ll feel frustrated. But as soon as I recognize that I’ve turned all my attention to that, I breathe in and bring myself back to ‘here.'” I gestured at the spot where I was standing.
She shook her head. “I just get so mad at myself that I can’t stop it from happening all the time.”
“Totally understand that frustration. So let me suggest two things to think about with your meditation: attachment and being judgmental about thoughts.”
It’s like having a fly in your car while you’re driving somewhere. It bugs you. It irritates you. But what harm is it actually doing?
You’ll wear yourself out trying to chase it down while you’re driving. You can’t catch it, you can’t kill it, it refuses to leave via the four windows you have opened for it. It just insists on buzzing around on your windshield and dash, to the point you stop looking at the road or traffic or whatever and just attach all your attention to that doggone fly.
Then the judgments begin. I hate that fly. I wish it would die. I wish there weren’t any flies. Why in the world did God even make flies? I wish they never existed. They’re so stupid they won’t even fly out an open window but they’ll keep ramming their faces into a windshield.
So you’ve attached yourself to the fly and you’re judging the fly, rather than accepting that the fly is just there, will leave when it’s ready, and isn’t trying to ruin your life. It’s just an annoying fly. We do the same with thoughts and feelings. Really that’s where “sitting and doing nothing” meditation becomes training for a mindful life: learning how to respond to the stuff that bothers you.
As we learn to stop beating ourselves up for our reactions, we drain away some of that reflexive judgment. In time, we find that many irritants don’t actually have to be dealt with and they become less bothersome. This is especially true if we have a noisy and cluttered mind. The more our minds are bombarded by the noise and cares of this life, the more our overwhelmed brains hunker down to ride out the everyday storms.
But meditation is you creating a quiet, spacious environment for your mind.
With all that quiet space suddenly available, your brain is going to want to emerge from its pillow fort and stretch its legs. It’s only natural the space is going to invite all of your thoughts to come in and fill it. Mindful acceptance connected with my meditation means that I’ll expect all these distractions and thoughts to show up.
It also helps me know that it’s totally cool to let them float by like dandelion seeds on the breeze—they approach, they dance a moment before your eyes, then they float on. You don’t need to float with them, or try to catch them all like Pokemon, or put them out like they were burning embers flying on the wind.
When you sit down (or lie down, or whatever your method) to meditate, one thing that might help it go more smoothly is to open both doors wide before you start: the one leading into your mind and—this is crucial—the one leading out. The thoughts are going to come and go anyway.
Attachment leads to a lot of suffering. It’s good to reduce that in life generally, but especially when we enter the Meditation Zone. If we do nothing but suffer during meditation, how much will we want to go there?
In the end, the distractions will come. Our job isn’t to pick up a fly swatter and chase each one down. It’s not a Whack-A-Mole game, it’s meditation. And each time we get distracted, it’s not a failure nor does it mean our meditation is bad.
So each time you find yourself drifting or judging, no matter how often, remember: breathe and bring yourself back to “here.”
Then meditation and mindfulness will become a healthy practice instead of an arena battle.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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