Why Are so Many of Us Resistant to Learning How to Quiet Our Mind?

1135112859_45dc222725_zIn 1976 when I began my addiction recovery journey, one of my first teachings was about discovering my observer mind. This discovery changed my life more than any other self-discovery tool. Before I learned how to use my mind to keep a check on my thoughts, I thought that my mind was running the show. It was because I was allowing it to be in charge. My mind was a jumbled and hectic place. In mindfulness teaching, this is called the “monkey mind”. I have for over 38 years used my mind to keep a watchful eye on random thoughts. It takes 4 positve thoughts to root out one negative thought. So the best use of mental energy is to notice if negativity is there and to stop it instead of feeding it. Negativity has to fed by our fears in order to continue.

1.  From ThoughtBrick: “Soothing the “Monkey Mind”: A personal journey“:

“It started as an urgent need to change my life.  I was troubled by stress-related health problems, hopelessness and feelings of despair encircled me on a daily basis, and  I had virtually lost any semblance of perspective.”

Starting a mindfulness meditation course

“Four weeks later, following a synchronistic conversation with a friend, I started on my 8 week Mindfulness Meditation Course at Evolution in Brighton.  It was as if I had just been handed a mental and emotional roadmap, a framework for recovery.  I grabbed the opportunity enthusiastically but with a little trepidation.”

“I felt ready to embark on this process, following years of psychotherapy.  I had exhausted trying to work things out through the prism of the egoic mind and had also come to the conclusion that the process of analysing things in this way has a tendency to become circular and unfulfilling.  I was already searching for a way to approach  things from a more spiritual perspective, a position of  non-self judgement and observation.  Mindfulness meditation enabled me to do this.”

Observing what’s going on

“As the course progressed,  one thing became startlingly clear. I realised how difficult it is to do what seems like the simplest of things, just sitting with oneself and observing whatever is happening outside, in one’s body, and on the inside. At the beginning of the process, having the normal distractions removed, my mind went into overdrive and started to create them, from mental ’list-making to physical restlessness.”

“When focusing on stillness and not actively thinking, just ‘being‘ with oneself and allowing whatever came up with detached observance,  my head was suddenly filled with the squawking of the hungry ‘Monkey Mind, desperate for attention.”

Being a passive observer

“As the weeks went on, however, I learnt to become more of the passive observer, and it became easier to separate oneself from the dramas and stories  of the ego self.  Acknowledging that resistance to the process is an intrinsic part of it, allowed me to be kinder to myself during it, and not give up.”

“The most important discovery I made, however, was that I could break the vicious cycle of thoughts, stressful feelings, and then physical symptoms. When before these had operated in a circular loop, the process of observing all physical sensations in the body, the ‘body scan’ as it is called, allowed me to separate out emotion from physical sensation.”

Learning not to judge

“I learnt not to judge what was arising as ‘good’ or bad’, simply as a sensation in the body, not to create a fearful ‘story’ around it. And I was able to have some freedom from the the problems that my mind had been creating, and some inner peace, for the first time in a long while.”

“Through this meditation , I have learnt to become more mindful in my everyday life too. I have realised what I only understood on an intellectual level before starting this journey. That  is, that when one is truly in the present moment, there is no space for unhappiness or fear.”        (Written by Jeremy Brown)

2.  From Sonima: “What to Do With Your Mind During Meditation“: (Written by Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Advisor)

“One of the common mistakes people make when beginning a meditation practice is believing that it is simply a way to turn off your mind. Your mind is a radiant, brilliant, amazing thing and there is no off switch. Meditation is not about zoning out and becoming a vegetable. You can befriend yourself in meditation, use it to transcend your usual experience, even have a powerful realization depending on what technique you are doing, but let’s be clear that your mind will remain “on.””

“Another common misconception is that thoughts are bad and we should rid ourselves of thoughts. Our mind cannot stop producing thoughts. It’s simply what it does. Often when people discover that there is no off switch in their mind and thoughts continue to come they get discouraged and think they are the worst meditator of all time. There have been thousands of years of meditators and I promise you, you are not the worst. Not by a long shot.”

“Many types of meditation are not about getting rid of thoughts but about establishing a healthier relationship to what is going on in the mind. One of my favorite words for meditation is the Tibetan term “gom,” which can be translated as “become familiar with.” In other words, meditation is a way to become more familiar with what is going on in your mind and more familiar with the types of thoughts that come up throughout your day.”

“If you engage in shamatha, peaceful-abiding meditation, the instruction is to return your attention to your breathing, over and over again. A big thought will pop up and distract you from the breath. It’s your job to gently return your focus once more to feeling the simple flow of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. If it is helpful you could even silently say “thinking” to yourself.”

“The process of labeling your thoughts as “thinking” is not to dismiss them or chase them away like you might swat away a fly: “Shoo! Don’t bother me!” The point is to acknowledge the thought. You notice that it came up, inwardly nod at it by saying “thinking” to yourself and, as if it were someone you saw passing by in the street, having acknowledged them you continue on your way, in this case by returning your attention to the breath.”

“By being extremely gentle with yourself and returning your attention, continuously, to your breathing, you prevent that hummingbird mindset I mentioned earlier. You are, perhaps for the first time all day, focusing on just one thing: the breath. Thoughts about life, fantasies, strong emotions, discursive and subtle emotions will come up. In all these cases we look at the thought, acknowledge it, and come back to the breath.”

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Learn to Make Meditation a Daily Habit

Anne Dilenschneider writes about Meditation-Walking in the World. In this post she gives three examples of meditation done while being alive to life and being fully conscious. In Walking Meditation #1, she suggests:

“Name an issue that is of concern to you,
something you’d like more clarity about.
Be open to seeing your concern in a new way.
Be open to letting go of your concern for this time,
and trusting it to a wider Wisdom.

Then go out for a walk.”

She also gives an excerpt from one if my heroes, Anne Dillard, from Anne’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise” (pp. 270-71).

And, finally, she suggests:  “As you go walking, try this:

When you take a step with your left foot, breathe the word “Glory.”
When you take a step with your right foot, breathe the word “Amen.”

(1)  When is the Right Time to Teach Children Meditation?

Answer from Deepak Chopra:

“There’s no hard and fast rule on this. What’s most important is to make them aware of the value of meditation through your example and then look for their receptiveness. Some children may be ready for meditation as early as eight or ten years of age. Other kids even growing up in homes where both parents meditate, may not feel drawn to meditating themselves until they are in their late teens.”

“It’s important that they don’t feel pressured to meditate because the parents want them to. When they are motivated to start from their own curiosity and desire that is the best indication they are ready, and that is the best indicator for them to continue on in their practice as well.”

(2)  20 Meditation Tips for Beginners:

“Although a good number of people try meditation at some point in their lives, only a small percentage actually persist with it. This is unfortunate, as the benefits are enormous. One possible reason is that many beginners do not start with an appropriate mindset to make the practice sustainable.”

“The purpose of this article is to provide 20 practical recommendations to help beginners get past the initial hurdles and integrate meditation as an ongoing practice in their lives.”

(3)  Meditation and Its Benefits:

“(a) Meditation is good for the brain
According to scientists there is evidence that suggests that meditation can boost parts of the brain and the immune system.”

“(b) Meditation for stress management
People started practicing meditation worldwide as a means to reduce stress or to help them with pain caused by various illnesses.”

(“c) Meditation can help maintain calm in any situation.”

“(d) Meditation develops intuition; a capacity to understand and foresee.”

“(e) Most of the diseases stem from the discord between mind, intellect and body. Meditation will bring your body, mind and intellect, into harmony and hence peace.”

“(f) It encourages deeper understanding of oneself and hence others. Thus one can follow his chosen path with more precision.”

“(g) Meditation will lead you towards the path of non violence. As a result you will gradually stop injuring yourself and other at work, in relationships, etc.”

“(h) Regular practice of meditation will certainly make the will power of the practitioner stronger. When the mind is stronger you can achieve what you want from life and stay peaceful and happy.”

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Using Spirituality for Change

6801036620_398b9357de_zAs we shift our feelings and thoughts to positive from negative, we become aware of the power that we feel inside. We are becoming aware of our soul. The soul is bigger that just our mind. It includes our dreams, our feelings as well as our thoughts.

I don’t think that we can try to attain the awakening of our soul in any other way than by choosing to put ourselves in the presence of the God of our understanding. Many centuries ago, a wonderful monk lived and wrote Practice in the Presence of God.

He taught me, centuries later, that all I had to do was practice presenting myself to my God. I didn’t have to do anything else but put myself in a place where the God of my understanding could communicate with me.

Prayer is when I communicate with my God and meditation is the practice of listening to God. Although I have tried many times to maintain the principles of meditation to my life, I have never been able to do meditation in the recommended ways.

Instead I set aside time several times a day to “check in” with Him. When I present myself to God for His answers, I come in a spirit of peace and quiet. I rarely “hear” anything. Instead I sense directions or guidances from Him. If my direction is God’s will for my life, the going will be easy. If I am trying to force something to happen, I will become stressed about it.

The difficulty is in getting out of God’s way. If I think that I know exactly the direction of God’s guidance, I have learned that it is probably my ego answering me. Another way that I use to understand God’s direction is to not do anything to force the outcome. I do the footwork and leave the outcome to Him. This is especially hard when all that maybe needed is a phone call.

If I don’t receive some kind of guidance, I realize that the answer may not be no, but rather may be later. This letting go releases great energy and feelings of belonging. “Let go and let God.”

How do you know that someone–regardless of age–is spiritual? Certainly not because they say they are. The best evaluation is to see the fruits of the Spirit manifested by them. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, patience, faithfulness, goodness, longsuffering and gentleness as listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

Wikipedia identifies mindfulness as “the practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Although my faith is based in Jesus Christ, I am thankful that He has given me the gift of openness to explore and implement practices from other faiths.

“When you have understood your own suffering, your own loneliness, you feel lighter and you can listen to the suffering of the other person. Your suffering carries within itself the suffering of your ancestors, of the world, of society. Interbeing means that my suffering is in your suffering, and your suffering is in my suffering. That is why, when I have understood my suffering, it is easier for me to understand your suffering. When you understand someone’s suffering, that is a great gift that you can offer to him or to her. The other person feels for the first time that she is understood. To offer understanding means to offer love. And understanding another person is not possible without understanding self. Home-building begins with yourself. Your partner too builds a home within, and then you can call her your home, and she can call you her home.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo credit.

Meditation in Prison

Prison Meditation by sarvodaya.org

I am convinced that my spiritual experience in 1976 is the reason I have been able to stay clean and sober all these years. During the first six months of sobriety, I was lead to learn about meditation and prayer. I consider prayer to be talking to God, and meditation to be listening to God. It has worked for me over and over. The listening to God is rarely easy unless I have screwed up big time. At these times, God gets the message to me with a 2 x 4 over the head or a giant billboard for all to read. Sometimes, I receive humility only through humiliation.

Through the practice of meditation, I learned to get centered by focusing on my breathing in and breathing out. This technique is invaluable in stressful situations or at times when I may become unstable emotionally (which is what I call anger).

I have also learned about mindfulness which is a Buddhist concept. Although I am a Christian mystic, I have always during recovery examined and explored all concepts. I have kept the practices that help me become more loving and more content in my own skin.

I believe that there is one God; but many paths to that God. I picture a mountain with paths all over the place with forests, valleys, and other obstructions. So I hop from one path to the other in my spiritual journey always being careful to get back on the main road which is my surrender to the God of my understanding. Along the way, I practice prayer and meditation daily. It keeps me centered and focused.

Prisoners in India have been given the opportunity to practice meditation and prayer. The prison officials have brought in instructors and the prisoners are given the structured time to practice. More information about this in this article found on line in the Time magazine.

I am sure that those prisoners leave jail with far less inner turmoil and anger than they would have without meditation. The main place we should all be free is inside our own mind.

Further readings about meditation in prison:

Prison meditation project of San Diego, California

Meditation in prison gives prisoners a chance to find some much needed answers

Prison Meditation in Alabama

Meditation in prisons in Concord, New Hampshire

Vipassana meditation courses for correction facilities

Centering Meditation in California Prisons

Meditation and Yoga

One of the better meditation CDs is by Rodney Yee. The CD is Relaxation and Breathing for Meditation. The CD is by Rodney Yee and the ISBN number is 1-931919-09-7.

The interview from the notes for the CD:

1) Describe the relationship between yoga and meditation.

All forms of yoga are beginning stages of meditation. Even in deep meditation, there’s always going to be some input, some micro-movement in the body. Meditation is the observance of what’s going on both internally and externally

–without necessarily reacting to it. When we do the postures (in yoga), we are concentrating the mind within the body.

2) How do these facilitate meditation.

In this entire program we use yoga postures to go inward. The relaxation poses found here support the mind, the body and the nervous system to rest. All of these postures aid in meditation because when the mind relaxes and begins to get quiet, it becomes able to focus on the subtle movements inside the body. A lot of times people say, “When I sit down to meditate I can’t still my mind, my mind is all over the place.” And that is exactly why we do these postures first—because they settle the body, they settle the mind.

3) What is the importance of the breath?

The breath itself, as the yogas have sold for thousands of years, is the ruler of the mind and body. If you control the breath, in some sense you also control the state of your mind and the chemistry of the body. By making the breath smooth and easy, you’re going to create a quiet easy mind. Breath is what stills and quiets the mind so that meditation can take place, and the relaxation is a fundamental aspect of breath.

4) What is the best time of day for this practice?

While this program is done best in the morning, I believe many people can benefit from it at the end of the day as well. Morning is the time when you are the most quiet and the air is most pure (if you do these outdoors). Taking time for this package in the morning sends you out of the door feeling centered, present and relaxed. Everything you do is going to be enhanced by that. At the same time, at the end of the day, you’re often tired. You know you need rest, and you’re ready to place your body in positions that are good for it, that will remove the stresses of the day. To go from the asana practice into the breath work, and into meditation is the perfect segue to a peaceful, restful night.