Stop Trying So Hard To Achieve A Meditative State
By: Shadoe McKee
So many people I talk to tell me they struggle with meditation. A lot of them give up on their practice because they find they have to concentrate too hard or force themselves to perform the unpleasant daily task of swatting away their thoughts while staring at a candle and forcing their mind to become a blank slate. I’ve met a lot of people that have gone to meditation retreats in the hopes of finding some golden nugget of instruction that will lead them to achieving the perfect state of mindfulness and peace. They are hunting for happiness, aggressively training their brains to accept a state of consciousness it isn’t familiar with. But, really what is happening, is they are missing the mark. They are trying to make their brain perform a task they are unfamiliar with, but meditation is actually something the human brain is designed to do automatically.
I recently watched a youtube Dhamma talk from the Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre in Perth Western Australia (BSWA) that addressed this issue. Meditation isn’t something you work toward or learn or concentrate on. You only concentrate on something that is boring but you do it because you believe it is good for you. It isn’t a foreign state we have to shape our minds into. It’s the natural state our minds wish to be in. It is a gift like you would find under the Christmas tree. You don’t have to concentrate on a gift. You don’t have to make an effort to accept and open a gift. The present we find ourselves in is a gift. It isn’t something you have to seek out or hunt down to experience. You don’t need to concentrate on it or make an effort to find it. It is here, it is now, it is our gift. We choose to make it hard by worrying, making plans, dealing with memories of the past and creating assumptions and drama. Staying in the present is our natural state and takes no effort. Letting our thoughts pull us into the past or the future is what we waste all our time and energy on, and we are conditioned to willingly do it. It is as easy as breathing. It isn’t something you make an effort to do. You don’t have to watch for it. The trouble arises when we try to alter our breath, like panting or holding our breath. It is an unnatural state that goes against the rhythm of life. Your breath needs to be left alone to do its thing, just as the present needs to just be, just as the rhythm of the waves coming onto the beach happens without your attention or concentration or influence.
Mindfulness and meditation aren’t things you can really define, but they need to be put into language to share with others. There is much lost in translation, and the words that are used to define things are also highly limiting and open to interpretation. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t things to be identified that are separate from us; they are as much a part of us as the love we feel for our life partner or child or the knowledge we collect on out life’s journey. We depend on those things every moment of every day and assume they will always be there as sure as we take in breath from moment to moment without thinking about it. Mindfulness is awareness and acceptance of all things at any given moment. The ultimate goal for Buddhists is to reach Samadhi, which most people have been taught to believe means concentration. Therefore, we concentrate on meditation to reach some mysterious place we envision complete peace to be hiding. Samadhi doesn’t mean concentration, but a profound experience of unity and infinity and stillness. Samadhi isn’t the end of a pursuit of happiness, it is finding out that you ARE happiness. It is the discovery that you had what you were looking for all along.
So, how about the meditation techniques that suggest you gain focus and clarity by staring at a fixed object, like a candle flame? External sources of focus may help you calm and feel more centered, but it is still external and keeps us in the external. The state of mind you are seeking is internal and cannot be visited while you keep your senses active and focused on the external. You can’t make yourself to stay alert and pay attention to something and not expect yourself to NOT be disrupted by outside sources. Imagine taking a little kid to the circus, setting them in front of a table with a thumb tack in the middle of it, and asking them to sit still, stay calm, and look at nothing but the thumb tack. Not only is it unnatural, it’s downright impossible to achieve. It goes against the nature of being a human. A meditation object is separate from yourself, and inherently keeps your focus outward. It creates separateness, which is the opposite of what we are trying to feel when we meditate.
If we have conversations or arguments or are annoyed by our thoughts, it feels like they are outside of us. They feel like they are not a part of us. When there are parts of us that we reject or don’t want to address or don’t agree with, we find them annoying and try to put them outside ourselves. Thoughts are not outside yourself; they are a natural process of the mind and something you are creating, an action you are performing. They are your mind’s way of teaching you what you need to work on and resolve in you. They are your own personal, internal therapist. You need to bring those thoughts inside you and accept and love and forgive, like unpleasant relatives that you invite into your home. They may be irritating, but you still love them and appreciate them for what they bring and give them respect. They all have something to say and you need to listen to each one and be compassionate and patient. When they feel like they are being listened to, their energy can be released. They quiet down because they don’t have anything else to be noisy about. Just like a child, you will never quiet them by telling them to shut up and go away, or acknowledging them and then ignoring them. If you accept them, listen and teach them, you can find peace for them. As you address each thought, your mind changes during meditation, and your thoughts change, too. They will be less angry, less fearful, and less disturbing, and become more peaceful, helpful, and constructive. Let your worries be worries, accept them for what they are and don’t be afraid to open up to them, let them in, hug them and listen to them, and help them heal.
So, instead of looking at meditation as an effort to learn and a struggle to find the right technique or method, try to build the right perspective. The experience of peace in meditation is the same as the experience of a man who has been let out of jail or who was sick and became well. It’s a return to balance. It isn’t pleasure or intensity you are seeking out. It is a returning to the state we are at our most comfortable. It is a neutral feeling of lightness, having shed burdons, and of coming back to a place of normalcy and calmness. Stop trying so hard and don’t try to observe anything or “seek” anything. The only thing that matters is to feel mindful, feel peaceful, feel balance, and let it come to you.