One of the most common things I hear when I tell people I teach meditation is this: "My mind is too busy to meditate."
That's like saying "I'm too unfit to exercise."
So what can we do about that busy mind? And why do we think that's a hindrance to meditation, rather than the very reason we might give it a try.
Gandhi would say it's because we're addicted to comfort. When he said that he was referring to the idea of Satygraha (truth force). Gandhi pioneered India's independence from Britain – a protest that lasted 41 years. No small feat!
When we apply the notion of being addicted to comfort and place it over our ideas about meditation then one of the first things we'll discover is our busy minds. We very quickly realise that meditating is hard. Maybe too hard? Or maybe it's just easier to not do it. Very true! Not going to the gym is much easier than lifting weights and doing cardio exercise, but if we don't move our bodies in a certain way, they turn to jelly.
And the same is true of the mind.
So, the first hurdle to overcome is the one that it's too hard and therefore we should give up.
I prefer to make room for the reality that meditation is a process that takes time to cultivate. Just like the first time you lift weights … your muscles are sore the next day … it 'hurts'…
Meditation is similar, however, the 'pain' we feel is mental discomfort.
When we stop, we become witness to all the eleven zillion thoughts we're having that we didn't know were there … and we think we've failed. Because meditation is about clearing your thoughts, right?
Meditation, like exercise is a way to change what already exists. It is a form of mental exercise that helps us get in touch with our thoughts. Sure, there are processes that help us clear the mind, but long before we get to that stage, we must learn how to lift small weights.
We must begin where we are. Which for most of us is crazy-busy out of our minds with stress and about as far from meditation as we possibly are from winning a body building title if all we do is walk around the block and attend the occasional Body Pump class.
Meditation is not what you think it is. It is not a free pass to a clear mind, and yet, it does provide us with that potential. It is one of the greatest dichotomies that I know.
And so, rather than focusing on the potential outcome … stillness, clarity and focus … we are far better off beginning our meditation journey with a reality check.
Letting go of what we think it should be and allowing ourselves to observe what it really is, is a great place to start. And if that sounds too esoteric and abstract, let me put it more simply.
Start by finding a meditation style that you like
Try to let go of needing your meditation to be perfect
Let yourself fall asleep, be bored, restless… these are all indicators that it's working
Find a teacher or a group where you can learn more
Remind yourself every day that it isn't about clearing your mind
Build up from a few minutes to a longer practice
Notice what you notice
Stay in the game and keep trying
If you manage to do all of the above, I guarantee you, that no matter how busy your mind is, you will begin to see small and subtle changes in your life. Just as going the gym or regularly practicing yoga or Pilates will create incremental improvements to your strength and fitness, regular meditation will provide you with the ability to slow down your mind.
I highly recommend finding a teacher, at least as you begin. Think of us as a personal trainer. Learn how to use the equipment until you've got the hang of it and can meditate on your own.
And most of all, be gentle and kind enough to allow your meditation journey to be yours.
A busy mind is not a barrier to meditation, it is the necessary starting point.