One of the most surprising things I found when learning meditation was that you can never keep your mind completely blank. Even seasoned Buddhist monks have to bring their minds back to the present after it wanders.
I started learning to meditate in May of last year. I do it nearly every day. I started out meditating for twenty minutes twice a day, but now I mostly do it only once a day. Itâs not easy finding a quiet place all the time.
Iâve been interested in meditation for a long time. Back when I was learning Vietnamese while in the army, our class visited a Buddhist temple. It was actually more of a big house on a nice part of Oahu, I donât remember exactly where. We were given a little talk by a Buddhist monk and given a tour through rooms of other monks meditating. We all whispered, because we didn’t want to wake the monks. But, we were told that the monks were not sleeping or in any kind of trance state at all. They were completely aware of our presence. They were just so disciplined that they could continue to meditate even though we were walking through the rooms on our tour. It was fascinating.
I wish I had that discipline. It looked so peaceful and free of stress.
Iâm not a BuddhistâI donât really consider myself religious at all.
I meditate to clear my mind. I’m not a big believer in the metaphysics of it.
I had initially booked a Transcendental Meditation course last year. They have a very informative website and it is the same type of meditation that all the famous people do (like the Beatles, Russell Brand, Howard Stern, etc). I contacted a local instructor was ready to pay a few hundred pounds to take a four-day course after an introductory talk. During the talk, I was asked to bring a few items (like a fresh flowers and a handkerchief) for the first class. These items would be used for a âpukaâ ceremony which, the instructor admitted, sounded religious but really wasnât. Some of the claims made during the talk didnât quite gel with me either. This didnât sound very scientific to me, despite scientific foundations that Transcendental Meditation seems to espouse. Yogic flying particular bothered me.
A few days later, I found a website called âFalling Down the TM Rabbit Holeâ by Joe Kellett. He is a former TM teacher and wrote a site very critical of TMâbasically equating it to a cult. Iâm so glad I found that. Itâs an fascinating read. I cancelled the course and emailed Joe to thank him for his very useful site. He emailed back. I then asked him if there was any meditation he would recommend. He sent me a few book titles and websites to look at. It was great. I wanted a secular meditation experience.
So, I read a few books and tried to explore meditation from a more scientific standpoint. I read The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson which looks at the scientific benefits of Transcendental meditation using lots of case studies. Also, Joe sent me a site on Amaravati mediation (which is a Buddhist mediation)âthe site was very basic and a quick read. Basically, the act of meditating is simpleâitâs just how you interpret the effects. TM claims that you canât do it without a teacher and taking the expensive course. I havenât found that to be the case.
Iâve been mediating since May and find it very enjoyable.
I usually sit down to meditate for 20 minutes in the morning. I’ve tried different methods, but I find that focusing on a mantra (in the Transcendental Meditation style) to work better than focusing on my breath (as in the Buddhist and other styles). I try to let go of the thoughts in my head. I try to let go of my worries, concerns, passions, or anything else that takes me out of the current moment sitting alone in a chair. I try to let go of the room I sit in and the world around me. I try to experience each passing second without putting any of my own labels on it.
This is harder than it sounds. Sometimes, it may take over 10 minutes of the 20 minutes just to get to the state where my mind will quiet down. Logically, I know to dismiss the inner voices– but it’s so hard to do.
In most of the literature I’ve read, they call this voice the ego. The ego is not you, it is your representation of you. It is who you think you are, based on all the previous experiences you’ve had. Eckhart Tolle calls it the photo-album you pull out to show everyone else and yourself who you are. The reality is, however, that you can be anyone you want to be from this moment forward. I can become an axe murder at this moment if I wanted to. People would talk about it being uncharacteristic of me, but I get to decide what my character is.
The ego is important–it’s you after allâbut it gets in the way and interferes with everything you do. It fills your life with commentary. The goal of meditation, for me, is to get away from the running commentary for a little while. Not every passing second needs commentary. Think about what it was like as a child when you could look at something and examine it without passing any judgement over it.
But itâs so hard to get rid of the commentary.
To give an idea, hereâs some of the things that go through my head in the middle of mediation:
âOkay, letâs clear the head . . . focus.â
Then, I go to the mantra and to the current moment. The mantra repeats itself in my head. Itâs there to keep my mind from wandering.
But then, the ego steps in: âHey, this is great. Iâve actually cleared my head. This isnât too tough.â This is the kind of commentary I want to get rid of. This is the ego poking his head in.
Then, the ego takes me back into my head: âHey itâs cold in here. Well, itâs not cold like Alaska probably is. My sister lives in Alaska. Man, sheâs all grown up. I remember when we were kids in the 80s. Man I watched a lot of TV in the 80s. Max Headroom was a good show. When did that disappear? I wonder what it would be like if they did that show today . . . â and so on, and so on.
Soon, Iâm not even in the room anymore. Iâm completely in my head floating around in irrelevant and tedious memories. Iâm experiencing things that arenât even happening now. Iâm focusing on things that no longer exist.
When I realise where Iâve gone, I come back to the mantra and back to the room. This is the process. Rinse and repeat.
During mediation, my mind will wander to all kinds of things. I might think about a TV show I’ve seen, or something I have to do for work. I might think about a song my childhood or a TV jingle. Sometimes a face of someone I barely know will flash into my memory. It’s so complete bizarre sometimes the stuff that creeps in there. But, when you realise you have drifted, you come back to the mantra and back to that moment and that room from wherever you drifted off to in your mind.
While Iâm not a big believer in the metaphysics of mediation, there are quite a lot of things that Iâve thought about a lot since meditating. For example, I think about how much we store in our brains. I donât think you could ever travel into the past (like in a time machine) because the things in the past only exist in our memoriesâand these are restricted by what we can see, feel, hear, etc. and are shaded by any emotions we have about what weâve experienced. If you meet someone for two minutes and heâs an asshole, he will be an asshole forever. Itâs like watching a TV show youâve taped years ago, except the reception wasnât that good when you recorded itâso it will always be bad. The only time the past is relevant is if I remember it, or if someone holds it up in front of me (like a book or a movie or a story someone is telling me). Youâd be justified in pointing out how much I talk about the past . . .
This post is longer and more sanguine than I intended. Sorry about that. Iâll try to lighten up a little. Later.