Two Problems In Meditation (an article I have written)

September 3, 2009 at 8:59 am Leave a comment

People who want to meditate are confronted with two major problems: one is their mind and the other is their body.

The mind problem is the incessant flow of thoughts that immediately starts up as soon as you begin to meditate. The meditator, who has sat down to achieve a peaceful and restful state of mind, becomes frustrated by the never-ending flow of thoughts that penetrate her consciousness. These thoughts she considers as ‘distractions’ that stop the peaceful state from arising.

The body problem has to do with the difficulty of finding a comfortable and easy sitting position that can be maintained for the duration of the session. Many meditation books suggest sitting in the full Lotus posture (cross-legged with feet resting on the opposite thigh) or the half Lotus posture (cross-legged with one foot on the opposite thigh). These postures are excellent because they keep the back upright and give a solid base to the body. But unless you are very young or exceedingly supple it is very difficult to even get into a lotus posture much less stay in it without aches and pains in various parts of the body. The lower back, hips, pelvis and the knees all are under great pressure from these postures and often the legs fall asleep while we hold ourselves cross-legged. If you can stay with the pain, the body will eventually give in and take the position, but in my experience this can take a long time, and can be both agonising and too disturbing for meditation while it is happening.

These two problems together cause many people to give up meditation before they have even experienced its great rewards. So what can be done?  One solution for the body is to use a meditation stool as a support, so that you can keep a straight back without having to cross your legs. The other way is to begin by lying on your back in the yoga posture Sivasana (corpse pose), which keeps your back straight and presents no body problems. This is the posture that I recommend for beginners in my audio The Age Of Anxiety.

So with the body sorted, how do you deal with the mind? It’s only when we begin to meditate that we realise how crazy our everyday mind is. It has been called the ‘monkey mind’ because it never stops responding to sensations, commenting on them, dragging up memories and images, flinging out snatches of songs, and all in a jumble that slides and rambles through our consciousness. To experience the monkey mind, try this experiment. Sit or lie in a meditation posture, close your eyes, and begin to breathe evenly and gently. On each outbreath count silently ‘one’ and continue counting each outbreath as ‘two’, ‘three, and so on up to ‘ten’. When you reach ten, go back to silently counting one again and so on.

How far did you get before the monkey mind distracted you away from the counting? You may have completed the first ten, but did you manage to get through the second series? Like the body, the mind too will eventually give in, and slow down these thoughts, as long as you don’t respond to them. I liken the mind to a train station, with many trains of thought leaving at all times. If you respond and get on one of the trains then you are off on a journey that will take you far away from your meditation, but if you can stay in the station and let the trains go their own way, then eventually the trains will slow down and even stop for a time. At that point, you have gained some control over your monkey mind, and you are truly meditating.

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Entry filed under: Age of Anxiety.

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