The next four posts, this one on restlessness included, are key to your success in meditating correctly. The other three hurdles are laziness in meditation, thoughts in meditation, and emotions in meditation. I am going to share with you the four common defects of meditation. I cannot overstate the importance of understanding the four hurdles and applying the correct methods to overcome them. Please take all the time you need to grasp, understand, and absorb them if you really want to become an excellent meditator.
In the last post, I implored those who are serious about meditation to reread all the posts under building concentration but I know that none of you, not even one person, of the hundreds of regular readers, actually did it fully.
I am at ease with that but I would like you to know that there are no shortcuts. If you want to experience samadhi, that tranquil state, that oneness, it is not going to come without effort. Unless you make meditation a priority, you are unlikely to feel motivated to persist.
You can read as much as you like, you can roam around the whole world, you can hear words of wisdom to your heart’s content, you can be in the company of sages, anything external you can think of, these are not going to suffice for you to experience the exalted state. Ultimately, you have to do it yourself to taste the nectar.
Before I expand on the present subject, let me reiterate the goal of meditation: it is settling your mind and letting it operate in its natural, primordial, and unmodulated state.
The usual scenario – What is restlessness?
Your present state of mind is conditioned by many such factors as evolution, society, beliefs, desires, intellect, second-hand knowledge, and so forth. Coming off this conditioning allows the meditator to discover the mind’s true, original and pristine nature. As you sit down to meditate, after a few seconds, stray thoughts from all directions start to hit you.
As you continue to try and build your concentration, you experience a certain degree of restlessness. It almost feels like the more you try to stay away from your thoughts, the stronger they seem to come at you, making you restless. It is normal. Once you attain the transcendental meditative state, you no longer try, thereafter, you simply maintain your state.
Restlessness – The foremost hurdle
The first obstacle is restlessness. It may be in the form of anxiety, resentment, excitement, or sensual stimuli. It is normal for all beginners, intermediate and advanced meditators; only the adepts are spared, that too by sheer virtue of their practice and experience.
The difference between an adept and an aspirant is that the former is aware of the restlessness as soon as it arises and promptly uses the right mental application to pacify his mind, whereas an aspirant allows such mental restlessness to overpower him, destabilizing his otherwise settled mind.
When you experience restlessness, and as it builds up during your meditation, you may feel the uncontrollable urge to move, shift, talk, and or even end your session.
Thoughts in the form of emotions, experiences, plans, and analysis linked to the past or future may make you anxious, excited, or aroused. A lingering thought over some right or wrong action may cause resentment. All of these are thoughts and they will make you restless.
During the practice of concentrative meditation, you must not engage in any cognitive activity of examining right or wrong, good or bad, and so forth. Just remember, they are all thoughts and learn to drop them and rise above them for lucid sessions of good meditation. Do not be impatient when restlessness emerges. The cause is natural, and, the remedy, simple.
The restless mind: A grumpy toddler
Let me use a simile to help you understand the cause of restlessness:
Imagine you are walking through a shopping mall. You have a three-year-old toddler with you.
As he is happily holding your hand making you feel proud of his behavior and obedience, he spots a candy store with flashing signs, an attractive display, animated cartoon characters, and everything else he could possibly fancy. He wants to go to the store. You, however, have other plans and want him to simply be with you.
He insists on going in the direction of the candy store, you tell him otherwise. His efforts intensify as does your grip on him. His volume gets louder, and, your stance, more commanding. He is unmoving and you are unyielding. He gets agitated, decides to lie down on the floor, and starts throwing a tantrum.
At that point in time, you have four choices:
a. Let him throw a tantrum while you feel somewhat embarrassed in public
b. Try to pacify him with the promise of taking him there in the future
c. Take him to the candy store
d. Overpower him, pick him up and rush to the parking lot
It is not a desirable situation and none of the options seem to be pleasant. This is exactly what happens when your mind becomes restless. It starts to behave like the grumpy toddler. It tries all sorts of tricks to get its way.
What causes restlessness?
When you are meditating and you try too hard to concentrate, your mind becomes restless. At that moment, it wants to break free of the obedience of posture, concentration, and stability. A conditioned mind is not designed to operate according to you, it is strong enough to lead so that you follow what it wants.
These are what tendencies of the mind are, they are all thoughts but they are the ones you find hard to let go of. Restlessness is caused when you want to discover the natural by employing unnatural methods, when you want to curb rather than understand, when you aim to ignore rather than abandon, when you are holding on instead of letting go.
Good meditation is about acceptance, awareness, attitude, and balance. This is the skill one needs to acquire — achieving that balance and maintaining it at all times. It is not just about sitting still for the sake of it, for, if it were, most animals would be great meditators; it is not about closing your eyes and pretending there are no thoughts, if this was meditation, all hibernators would be exceptional meditators. It is about maintaining harmony, that natural state of your mind.
The remedy to restlessness
The best way to overcome restlessness is to stop meditating at that moment. Stay in your posture if you can but make no attempts to concentrate. Hold a little self-dialogue. Just relax. Stop all effort to meditate. Take a deep breath. Get into a self-communion on any subject matter you like, not on one that will arouse you but on something that will give your mind a break from the act of concentration. If this fails to dissipate the restlessness, just get up and take a break. Resume after some time. We have to distract the toddler until we pass the candy store.
When your mind is tired, give it rest, when it is restless, pacify it. Pacify your mind. Talk to your mind. Give it some bait, do not be too hard on it for too long. We are teaching it discipline, we want it to move according to you. Be patient. Calm it down. Restlessness is normal and pacification is an art, a skill.
Ever seen an expert dog trainer? A good trainer knows when to reward versus reprimand, when to leash versus let loose, when to be soft versus strong. Some may be naturally good at it, but the exceptional ones are often so on account of their practice, persistence, and experience. Concentrative meditation is training the mind; when done, it automatically results in taming it.
As you progress on the path of meditation, you will learn how to be so that the kid never gets to see the candy store in the first place, or the toy store, or the swings. If he does not spot those, he will continue to be a happy child all the while you shop (read meditate). That comes with practice, with learning, with perseverance. I will continue to share the practices and methods as we plod along. For now, learn to pacify your mind during the moments of restlessness as stated in the sections above.
Art of Meditation
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Can you imagine how empowered you are going to feel with a settled mind, a mind that has turned inward, one that has learned to listen to you and not the other way around?
No candies, no tantrums!
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