A few years ago, when I attended my first Vipassana meditation retreat, it felt like the worst imaginable situation. I had never ever shut my mouth or my mind for even 5 minutes; leave alone for the required 10 days. That was the worst kind of torture for me and it was self created.
In hindsight, it was the best thing I ever did for myself. Something changed in my cellular structure and I have not looked back since. I have become a bit of a self-help junkie and am always trying to study and find new ways that can help me lead a better and more fulfilling life.
Recently I spent a few days with a Cambridge Theoretical Physicist turned Buddhist Monk – Ajahn Brahm – and of course like any novice on the path of enquiry I had a million questions. Ajahn answered them all very patiently and humorously. I never thought that Buddhist monks would have such an amazing sense of humor. I thought that I was at a comedy show instead of a serious Buddhist gathering. I guess that is what makes him so endearing as a teacher and easy to understand.
One of the questions that had bothered me for a very long time was: what does one really do during meditation? We always hear about how meditation is the panacea for most of life’s ailments. I too have meditated and must admit that I have had a few good meditations but often I have been unable to control my mind and concentrate on my breathing. I have tried various techniques and have at times tried to induce the brain patterns associated with meditation via brain entrainment and HoloSync CD’s. Have had a few successes and a few near misses.
Trying to understand meditation, and then having successful meditations, has been one of my pet peeves. Most meditators know what they experience and talk about the ‘bliss’ that they experience, they talk about watching your thoughts, concentrating on the breath, reciting a mantra, visualizing a God, concentrating on a picture, flame or a sound and so on. All these techniques are helpful but I still had not been successful in achieving the blissful meditative state that most meditators spoke about.
Yesterday as I sat down for my usual meditation, it just hit me. Ajahn Brahm had said to me:
“Have fun in meditation and feel free to move and adjust yourself if it felt uncomfortable”.
This was so freeing. I did not have to force myself to contort my body or do anything that was uncomfortable. According to Ajahn Brahm, meditation was not about control but about freedom.
This was such an eye opener for me.
My husband loves to watch serials like CSI and Hawaii 5-O. He seems to be addicted to detective action serials. Every time the detectives get a tip off they don’t immediately nab the suspect but sit patiently, stake out and gather enough evidence before making an arrest. This was the perfect analogy. How to catch or control something as elusive as the mind? We don’t even know how the mind functions so how can we ever control it?
The only way to eventually nab the unsuspecting suspect is by sitting still and observing his/her every move and gathering enough evidence before making an arrest. Similarly, the only way to control the mind is by first observing the mind and seeing its every move and every thought without judgment or prejudice.
Just as the detectives’ job is to observe and apprehend and not judge, we too should just focus on watching and eventually catch the mind from wandering. Alert attention is the mother of all intelligence. Watching the mind with patience, sincerity, love and compassion is the key to understanding the mind.
Next time you think of meditation, don’t think of it as something that requires a lot of self-control. Just sit with an attitude of a detective and observe all the thoughts that may come to your mind. Watch them and let them go. Keep watching and you might get tired of watching. In case you go to sleep while meditating, that too is fine. According to Ajahn Brahm,“if your body is tired and it needs to sleep, so let it sleep”. Allow whatever happens to happen but just keep an alert attitude of meditation. The whole point of meditation is letting go. We often struggle to let go and try to exert control, thereby defeating the very purpose of meditation. Compassion and non-judgment towards the self are the two main keys of meditation and being a meditator should never become about the ego or control.
Seeing myself as a detective sounded like a lot of fun, but after about an hour of watching my senseless thoughts I got so tired that I am sure I must have slipped either into a comatose sleep or a great meditation, for when I came out of the room a good two and half hours had passed and I had no idea where the time had gone. I was most certainly not in the posture that I had started, I was lying flat and I think my eyes were rolled back, but who am I to judge myself. Compassion for myself, and acceptance is the key.
Happy meditating everyone and see yourself as a detective of your thoughts and don’t be too hard on yourself if you are caught wandering or sleeping.