Updated: Jul 1, 2019
OK, you want to meditate but you can’t.
Your mind goes off in a spin and you spend the whole time you’re supposed to be meditating thinking about 1000 other far more important things that you should be doing. Or you fall asleep.
Yup, me too. (And I run a meditation group).
Let me share an enlightening experience with you that I had on the banks of the Ganges in India.
In January 2010 I traveled to Rishikesh, at the foothills of the Himalayas, to study yoga and meditation. I spent any spare moments I had visiting various sadhus and gurus to hear their take on life and enlightenment.
One particular guru—who was in his 60s—had spent the majority (if not all) his life following a spiritual path. He was a meditation king.
I just knew that this guy who wore orange robes (more of a loin cloth to be truthful), and who had a grey beard that reached his navel MUST be able to teach me something about meditation.
Surely he could tame the damn monkey that was running the mind-f*ck in my head? I couldn’t leave India until I’d learned how to find inner peace.
Lucky for me, this guy had the answer.
January in Rishikesh is like winter in Sydney: beautiful, warm, clear sunny days with biting cold mornings and evenings. The room where the guru held satsang was in the cold basement of an ashram on the banks of the Ganga.
All around the room were meditation caves. These are basically sound proofed cells where you can lock yourself in for hours (or days if you feel inclined) and simply Be.
Tempted as I was to shut out the external world and embrace my inner light, I wanted to feed my intellect first: so I listened intently to the Indian mystic as he translated and interpreted a chapter of the Bhagavad Gita for a room full of expectant Westerners.
After a while he paused.
“Do you know how long I can meditate?” he asked. We all shook our heads wondering how many weeks this dude could lock himself in a cell with no distractions.
Ten minutes? Are you kidding me? Even I can sit for 10 minutes…
“After 10 minutes I start thinking about sweets,” he said, with a boyish grin that suggested this guy loved to pop an Indian candy or two (which FYI is forbidden food for bramacharya. Sweets make the mind crazy…).
In that moment I realized something that changed my life and my meditation practice forever. I finally realized that the monkey that runs the cogs in my mind has seven billion siblings living in the brain of every other human being on this planet.
Even the ones who make a living out of meditation and appear to be enlightened. As soon as the guru released his truth I accepted mine. In that instant he gave everyone in the room permission to be ‘crap’ at meditating.
It’s in our nature to search for inner peace and happiness, but equally we’re human beings. With every passing year, faster technology, increased workload and life’s demands throw us further from our goal. We have literally created a world that makes it almost impossible to be still.
Sure, we can choose to turn off the TV (but not before we’ve surfed about 20 channels just in case there’s something interesting on), and we could choose not to check our Twitter account or emails before we get out of bed.
But we don’t. We tell ourselves there’s no time to meditate. But what did we do before we had iPhones and Foxtel? Is it technology that’s keeping us from practicing stillness?
It’s the fact that we have trained our minds to take on more and more information because we believe it’s more important to know why Angelina Jolie is so thin than who we are when we turn off the “mental lights.” We’ve reached a point where pressing the metaphoric pause button feels like we’re switching off the outside world.
Which feels even more scary than trying to sit still for 10 minutes.
If you really want to know what’s going on in the world, start by finding out what’s going on inside you. And that means sitting still and flicking through the thousands of channels that are running through your own head.
I could go on about the pace of life vs inner peace and how we can actually keep up with both, but for now I’ll leave you with a recap:
The next time you attempt to meditate and let your mind be still, remember this: even the dudes in the orange robes who live in the Himalayas and probably don’t even know what Facebook is let alone who just won American Idol find it just as difficult to meditate as you do.
The point is: we don’t necessarily need to be still for hours and not think. We’re programmed to think. It’s more important that we spend some time surfing our inner-net as opposed to the internet and take out the expectation that inner peace will come naturally and easily.
Finding that channel might take more than 10 minutes a day. But for now, even a quick flick at what’s going on “inside” might actually open doors in your mind that you’d previously blocked shut with a barrage of emails, text messages and TV shows.
This post first appeared in Elephant Journal in May 2013