So, this Meditation lark! What’s the secret?
Having done looooads of reading and thinking and reflecting about Life and the Meaning Thereof, and having decided that the Noble Eightfold Path was probably the Way To Go, I came to the conclusion that my meagre portion of it could be significantly enhanced by the daily practice of a little bit of Right Concentration. I actually came to that conclusion about five years ago and, if I had any qualities of persistence whatsoever, that would mean that, by now, I could have at least 1,826 sessions of meditation under my spiritual belt. That’s a big number. I’m pretty sure that would have got me quite a long way along the path to Nirvana, or at least to being the considerably-more-chilled sort of person that I think I’d like to be. However…
However, I should think that the actual number of occasions during the last five years on which I have sat down somewhere quiet-and-undisturbed, with the serious intention of ‘meditating’, is probably more like maybe thirty or so. And, shame-oh-shame, the number of occasions on which I have actually managed to Stay Put for more than about five to ten minutes probably amounts to… hmmm… let me see…. about eleven. Eleven! Eleven out of a possible one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-six. By any usual system of scoring, I would say that level of performance could be considered significantly crap.
The thing is, as I believe I have already mentioned, meditating is Hard Work. And I am not well known for liking Hard Work. And, in addition to the fact that the pursuit of Right Concentration requires more than a little of that elusive (to me) thing called Effort, there are a number of other major impediments to my successful practice of this laudable skill. And the greatest of these are the Little Demon of Sleep, and the Great Demon of Thought.
The first thing I discovered during my earliest attempts at serious meditation was that it was a wonderful cure for sleeplessness. Strange that I could wake in the middle of the night and find myself incapable of getting back to sleep for hours, when a mere five minute attempt at meditation could have me nodding off at the drop of a hat. It didn’t matter where I did it, or what I was sitting on. The living room floor; a rock in the woods; a garden bench; a hard chair in a room full of other would-be meditators at the local Buddhist Centre… within a few minutes of concentrating on the breath going in and out of my nostrils I was well on my way to the Land of Nod. Which I guess was a pretty handy discovery, but not quite the one I was looking for.
Eventually, when I got the knack of staying awake for more than the count of ten, (by dint of only meditating when I wasn’t completely pooped), I found myself face to face with that bloody huge Demon that is indeed the very bane of my life.
People have often told me that I “think too much”. Whereas, in the past, I have tended to disagree with this diagnosis of my Life Condition, countering the accusation with the response that, as far as I can see, most people don’t think enough, I am beginning to suspect that these well-meaning observers of my modus operandi might actually have a point. The trouble with Thinking, it seems to me, is that it can become a habit. It is one thing to Contemplate Important Things, and I would still advocate any thinking about Life, The Universe and Everything that leads to a positive change in one’s behaviour. It is another thing entirely to ruminate on the sort of aimless, fruitless abstractions that flit about the restless mind in the course of an average day.
It is only when I attempt to stop thinking, that I became aware of just how full of thoughts my mind is. They tumble and twist and proliferate like brooding bacteria, tainting the clarity of emptiness with worry and craving and discontent. And the more I try to control them, the sneakier they become, until I realise that these thoughts have a mind of their own. Trying to subdue them is like trying to hold back a pack of lively, adolescent dogs that have caught the scent of a rabbit. If I try to hold on to them they drag me with them against my better judgement. If I let them go, they are off, chasing and yelping and causing mayhem, only stopping occasionally to dig up some hidden piece of nastiness, or maybe doubling back and chasing each other around in circles in a game of grab-the-highly-valued-but-ultimately-pointless stick.
So what am I saying here? Meditating is as tiring as taking the dogs for a long walk in unfamiliar territory. I can no more stop my mind from chasing thoughts than I can stop my dogs from chasing rabbits. I despair of ever having a well-trained mind, just as I despair of ever having well-trained dogs. That Big Ol’ Demon of Thought has me well and truly in his clutches, and the more I struggle to get free, the tighter his grip seems to get.
Probably it’s time for a different approach. I’m thinking that instead of trying to control those damned
dogs thoughts, I might just watch them instead. I’ll watch them to see what makes them tick. I’ll watch them to see what things rile them up and what things calm them down. I’ll look after them, and be kind to them, and play with them, and feed them good food. I’ll watch them until I really understand them; till I can predict what they will do next, and nip things in the bud before they get into trouble. But when they do get things wrong, (which they will, because they are only dogs thoughts after all), I will forgive them.