What to Do When Your Mind Won’t Let You Meditate
By Tom Spector, Ph.D.
As a meditation teacher, people frequently tell me they want to meditate, but their mind won’t let them. When they sit to meditate and try to quiet their mind, they claim the mental chatter only gets worse. The truth is, they are correct. We can’t force our minds to behave and let us meditate. It doesn’t work that way. If we order the mind to be quiet, to stop driving us nuts, and to desist from creating suffering, we only encourage it to do more of the same. If we get in a battle with the mind, we always lose.
In contrast to popular belief, meditation is not a state of mind we reach when the mind becomes quiet. Instead, meditation is the process we use to train the mind to behave. A trained mind becomes a quiet, efficient mind that functions much better. We feel calmer and begin to see things more clearly. Clear vision contains within it insight (or intuition)—the instantaneous experience of limitless knowledge and guidance. I like to think of insight as the experience of the unthinkable. The benefits are innumerable. Before I describe how the process works, let’s start with an explanation of the nature of the mind.
You may be surprised to learn Albert Einstein depended very little on his rational mind. In fact, he made the following statements:
- “The really valuable thing is the intuition. The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery.”
- “I didn’t arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind.”
- “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is its faithful servant.”
However, for most of us, the very last thing the mind wants to do is serve us. The mind seems to have a mind of its own! It wants to be our master and will do anything to maintain control over us. Minds are unruly and use insidious methods to achieve this goal. The mind’s favorite tools include staying hyper busy and driving us crazy, jumping around like a monkey, creating worry, anxiety, stress, and guilt. Minds can produce self-limiting thoughts, including blame, anger, greed, hatred, and jealousy.
The key is to realize the mind is neither bad nor evil. It is just its nature to strive to stay in control of us. Unfortunately, the mind is truly a horrible master. The good news is that meditation can train your mind to become the wonderful, faithful servant described by Albert Einstein.
So how do we train the mind with meditation?
- First, establish a comfortable sitting position with your back, neck, and head in a straight line and hands resting on your legs. Sit away from the back of the chair to maintain some muscle tone to keep you awake. Close your eyes and continue with the following steps.
- Experience the sensation of the breath as it enters and exits your nose, allowing the breath to flow at its own rate. This is your focal point. Silently repeat the words, “in” and “out” with the sensation of each inspiration and expiration.
- Acknowledge and label all distractions your mind creates. It loves to create physical discomfort in the form of a pain or itch. If you react to them, they will shift around or intensify. So, simply notice the physical discomfort as a distraction and label it as “feeling.”
- Any time you find yourself lost in a thought, notice the thought and label it as “thinking.” Importantly, the labeling is done in a neutral manner without judgment. Judgments are just “thinking.”
- Every time you notice and label a distraction, remember to honor its existence. Don’t push it away. If you treat it as an enemy or dislike it, you will empower it. Your mind is really your friend. With time it will become content to serve you with clarity.
- After you honor your distraction, gently, but firmly, leave it and bring your awareness back to the sensation of the breath, your focal point.
As long as you are following these steps, you are meditating. Even if you have to notice distractions and return to the breath a hundred times, you are still meditating. Remain steadfast to this process. It will work.
Because you are not reacting to or buying into the games your mind has been playing, with time, your mind will lose interest in them and will become quieter, calmer, and more efficient. You gain access to the sacred gift of intuition and your mind will become its faithful servant.
This article was originally published in Mind Body Green.