“Too many thoughts”, “Can’t sit still”, “When will it be over?”, “Am I doing it correctly?”, “Nothing’s happening”. Ever had these thoughts during your meditation? Well you’re not alone, these are by far the biggest complaints people make about their meditation practice. As new meditators, we all had these concerns and even after many years, they still pop up from time to time. But please don’t give up, these are in fact good experiences.
The first step to managing restlessness and impatience is to understand them. There are three basic types of experience we can have during meditation – falling asleep, thoughts and restlessness, slipping into the field of silence and infinite possibilities, in the spaces between thoughts. While we all would prefer for our meditations to be silent, all these experiences are correct.
We explained the Mechanics of Stress Release more fully in a previous article on Expectations but basically, meditation is a process of purification. The mind and body gain deep levels of rest which allow stresses, fatigues and toxins to be released. This release increases the activity of the mind and body, causing us to have thoughts and perhaps feel restless. Our essence, who we really are, has been covered over by layer upon layer of the nonsense life has sent our way. Meditation is a process of peeling off these layers to reveal the magnificence that lies within. So, even though we may complain about these disturbances, they are the indication that something good is happening. As Mother Teresa said, “Restlessness is only the surface level of a beautiful wellspring of energy within”.
We should also remember that we can think thoughts at the superficial, surface level of the mind and also at deeper, more refined levels. Just because we are having thoughts in meditation doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a very restful state. What is important is when we realize that we’re thinking thoughts, we turn our attention back to the object of our meditation, such as our mantra or breath. This is correct meditation. To choose to continue thinking the thoughts would, in the context of meditation, be a waste of time.
Our meditation experience is often a reflection of our life. If we are overly tired or not getting enough good quality rest at night, we may fall asleep during our meditation. If our life is very busy and chaotic, our meditations may be restless and troubled. Meditation helps us to create a happier more harmonious life but, consciously taking steps to balance our lifestyle will also support our meditation experience. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. Most of us live our lives like a hare, dashing off in all directions, multi-tasking, lost in the haze of our own confusion, while it was the tortoise’s measured consistency that won the race. Even though we often feel as though we are “running out of time”, we actually have the whole of eternity before us. Slow down!
We’ve said that meditation is a purification process. The thoughts, feelings and emotions we may have during our meditation are the garbage being thrown out. So, unless you’re the sort of person who looks through the trash to see what you’ve thrown out before the garbage truck arrives, don’t waste time analyzing your meditation experiences. Whether you are having mundane thoughts about your daily activities, or seeing beautiful images and hearing celestial singing or you are hearing Deepak Chopra talking about non-local reality, they are not important. The purpose of meditation is to enrich our lives. The experiences during meditation will be what they will be, what is important is the shift in awareness we begin to enjoy in our everyday lives as a result of our meditation experiences.
Taking a few minutes to prepare before you begin your meditation session may help minimize the disturbances. We can meditate anywhere but finding a quiet place is preferable. If you’re at home, switch off the phone, put the children and pets in another room and let other members of your household know not to bother you.
Before your morning meditation, avoid the temptation to look at your computer and smart-phone. Let the activity of the day wait a little longer or your meditation will be filled with mentally composing answers to emails and texts. I like to precede my meditation with some gentle yogic stretching exercises. I think of as getting the kinks out so I can sit more comfortably. Take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, be aware of how your body feels, what’s going on with your thoughts and emotions. As you exhale, have the intention of letting go of anything that doesn’t concern you in that moment. You can come back and address it after the meditation but try to put aside any unnecessary distractions.
I find a simple centering exercise useful to align my physical body with my energetic field. Either sitting or standing, place one hand level with your navel, fingers pointing upward, palm towards the center. Raise the other arm straight up over your head, again with fingers extended upwards and palm towards the center. Take a full breath in and as you release it, bring your palms together at your heart center. Repeat this three times, alternating the hands if you wish.
In the afternoon, after a day’s activity, it’s often beneficial to take a few extra minutes to settle your mind and body before beginning your meditation. A little stretching if possible and even a 10-15 minute nap (napping is one of the lost joys of modern society).
Two or three minutes of alternative nostril breathing is another great way to settle, in perpetration for meditation. Using your right hand, close your right nostril with your thumb. Exhale slowly through your left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril. Then use your right ring and little fingers to close off your left nostril. Release your thumb and slowly exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril. Now again, place your thumb back over your right nostril, and release your ring and little fingers and continue breathing and alternating as before. This is an effortless, continuous flow of the breath with no controlled pauses, allowing the breath to flow at its own speed and rhythm.
Although the process of meditation itself should be effortless, a little discipline regarding the practice can be helpful. Before starting your session decide how long you intend meditating for and commit to sticking with that time no matter what your experiences.
When you first leaned to meditate, you did so for a reason. Meditation will eventually fulfill this and unfold other treasures beyond your wildest dreams. Learn to accept your experiences as part of the plan. Don’t sacrifice what you really want for what you think you should have right now. All traditions tell us that patience is a virtue.