Most people, as they go through the process of learning how to meditate, pass through a number of stages, some pleasant, some unpleasant. And no matter whether pleasure or pain, all these stages are good.
These stages arise naturally as your mind acclimatizes itself to the strange and wonderful environment of stillness.
You’re teaching yourself the skill of being still. To be still in mind, and still in body whenever you choose. You’re learning to sit and let go of your reactions to everything. Surrendering the mind and body to their own processes while ‘you’, the meddlesome aspect of mind you call by your name, go still.
More importantly, you’re learning to be happy to be still – to be able to sit still without getting bored, or worried, or impatient or anxious – which are our usual reactions to being still.
So it is that, as with learning any skill, as the mind and body slowly acclimatize themselves to stillness, together with all the feelings that come with it, you will struggle sometimes. Which is what the meditation methods are for – to help you pass through struggle in all its forms as easily as possible.
But for the methods to work, you must accept struggle as an inevitable and integral part of the training.
So what do I mean by struggle?
Well, think about all the things that annoy you in meditation – periods of over-the-top thinking, aches, itching, restlessness, boredom, frustration and even pain. We tend to regard these things as impediments in meditation. We think when these things are happening that ‘something is wrong’ with the way we’re meditating, and we wonder what we are doing wrong – because ‘meditation is not working’.
Not so. These apparent disturbances are not wrong. They are right. They are a natural result of mind and body learning to adapt to being still, just as muscular aches are a natural result of weights training in a gym. Indeed, the disturbances we experience during meditation are an integral part of the training process.
One would think stillness would be easy. After all, we only have to stop.
Our dog and cat can do it, and they take great pleasure in doing it. But for us, stillness is very hard to do.
To the average modern human being, even the idea of being still is utterly foreign – even threatening. In the busy world we’ve created we’ve become acclimatized to action, restlessness, excitement and distraction – not stillness. Stillness has never been a part of how we’ve been taught to live, nor is it spoken about, or given any value or encouraged.
And even if we do get the opportunity to be still – in a doctors waiting room or waiting for a bus, or sitting in our lounge-room, we’re not used to it, and we don’t know how to react to it. Hence the irony that even when we have the opportunity to be still, we can’t do it – it creates feelings of irritation, boredom, restlessness and so on. Unlike every other creature on the planet, who use stillness to rejuvenate themselves throughout the day, we have lost the ability to be still.
Which is why we have to learn how to do it by using meditation.
There is an immense amount of scientific and anecdotal evidence for how essential regular periods of stillness are for our mental and physical health.
When we are still the mind naturally re-organizes itself, re-patterning recent information and clearing the decks by storing unneeded information into the unconscious. Also, in union with the body, the mind uses the space of stillness to process the emotional reactions it has recently experienced. This cleansing activity appears to the passive meditating mind as errant thoughts, memories and worries that arise and pass away, as well as temporary feelings, patterns of sensations, aches, twinges and pain in the body.
During meditation all this activity appears naturally. And if we allow it to happen, all the anxieties and emotions that cause it will pass away as quickly as they arise. And once processed, we are free of it.
There is a profound union of mind and body that occurs when we meditate. Stillness in mind creates stillness in the body and vice versa. And in that union our muscles are able to let go of retained tension, and our organs have the time to rejuvenate and process the backlog of hormones and any leftover toxins on the blood.
And this cleansing process can only happen when stillness is present. Once we become active, and the mind and body become focused on some external task, this healing process becomes secondary to it’s primary purpose of serving our needs and desires.
The problem with stillness is, people think it should feel pleasurable – blissful, peaceful, calm and so on.
Maybe once you’ve trained yourself with meditation it will be. But in the beginning stages of meditation, stillness is filled with all the things that arise into it and clutter it up.
So all the things you think are disturbing you in meditation.The boredom, aches, itches, passing memories, worries and squalls of errant thinking – they wouldn’t arise if stillness wasn’t accessed by the meditation methods. These things arise into the space that stillness creates. They are mind and body naturally seeking to throw off mental and physical tensions – to find their own balance. And they need the space that stillness creates to do it.
And this process of ‘throwing off tension’ is sometimes fast, and sometimes slow depending on how complex the problem is – but if you just keep using the methods, like a boat crossing a river you will eventually get to the other side – and any mental or physical glitch you were struggling with, once processed, is gone – you are free of just a little more of the weight you have been carrying.
So learn to love the suffering that arises when you meditate. It’s the only way you’ll be free of it.
Use the meditation methods to accept and let go of everything as it passes through, because all of it is a part of the healing and rejuvenation that is itself the path to a stillness that becomes increasingly spacious and profound the more you meditate.
The more you practice acceptance of the struggle, and use the meditation methods to remain detached from any suffering that might occur, the less intense the suffering will become. You realize then, that all the things in your life you thought were problems – of worry, circular thinking, anxiety and physical discomfort – are not problems at all. They’re simply a mind and body seeking balance.
Love your pain and it becomes your friend.
- ‘Practical Meditation Audio Course’ – a complete set of meditation lessons to be downloaded as a package of MP3′s