If I had a pound for every time I told people that I was a mindfulness meditation teacher and they said "I would love to learn mindfulness meditation, but I just can't do it. I just can't stop my mind from thinking"; I would be much better off financially than I currently am!
I will let you into a little secret. Mindfulness is something that many of us experience quite naturally. For example, have you ever been on holiday and found yourself totally loving the feeling of the warm sand beneath your feet and in-between your toes? Delighted by the sensation of the sun warming your skin? You look around and think, everything is just perfect as it is, in this moment. Listening to the rhythmic lapping of the ocean, it is almost as if your breathing begins to slow down and match the rhythm of the waves. A sense of calm and contentedness comes over you. As long as you were not thinking about the past or the future in that moment, then that was a taste of mindfulness meditation.
So mindfulness meditation is something that most people have experienced at some point in their lives. It is natural and simple. Admittedly, it is not easy to learn or practise, especially when you are frantically busy, running to keep up with all the things that need to get done on a daily basis - ironically, when you need mindfulness most!
It doesn't help either when there are so many misconceptions and expectations around mindfulness meditation ranging from it's about stopping the mind from thinking, to getting rid of uncomfortable feelings and experiencing instant bliss. Add to this the fact that many people just dabble with trying out the odd meditation app or You Tube video and don't go to learn from an experienced teacher, it's no wonder, they come to the conclusion that they just can't meditate.
It's a bit like buying a piano, never taking any lessons and then coming to the conclusion that you just can't play the piano. I haven't met anyone who has come out of the womb able to play the piano. It just takes instruction and practise.
When I first learnt to meditate in India, I wasn't given very much instruction. I was just told to sit and was beaten with a stick if I started to snore - which happened quite often! I just didn't know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing. I just knew I wanted to feel peace and if I sat on the floor, cross legged and closed my eyes, somehow something amazing would happen. I felt quite proud of myself when whilst 'meditating' my mind cleared of thoughts for a whole 10 seconds. Wow! One time I saw beautiful colours and another time I experienced a trance like state. I rushed to tell my teacher. He looked at me with pity and compassion reserved for foreign, western fools and told me to go back and sit. Needless to say, I got totally frustrated and thought, I just can't meditate!
However, for some reason, I refused to give up and on my return to London, I continued to struggle for years, until I found a good teacher and finally learnt how to practise mindfulness meditation.
That whole experience of struggle, was in fact, one of the main reasons that made me want to train to teach people how to meditate. When I reflected on how long and hard my journey had been, I became totally committed to helping people get the benefits in a straight-forward, no nonsense way. A highly committed, experienced meditation teacher who knows all the misconceptions, expectations, difficulties and pit-falls, can teach just about anyone mindfulness meditation.
Over the course of these blogs, I want to take common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation and put them to bed. The biggest myth is that mindfulness meditation means emptying your head of all thoughts. Let me gently disavow you of this notion. Here goes: This can never happen and nor would you want it to! It would be like wishing your heart would stop beating for a while to give you a break! Minds think, that's what they do. That is what they were made for. Your mind will never stop thinking because it's primary job is to evaluate threats and danger in order to keep you safe. So to stop thinking would be to put your life in danger. So if it's not about stopping your thoughts, what is it about?
If you have ever tried to meditate, you might find that once you close your eyes and sit or lie still, you notice that your mind is all over the place, thinking about the past, the future, any and everything. This can be quite disconcerting, but it is completely normal for a mind that has never had any mindfulness training. It's like you have just bought a beautiful puppy and have decided to take it for it's first walk in the park; the puppy will pull on the lead, wander all over the place, perhaps even run into the road, sniff and eat nasty things - our minds can be like a lively puppy let loose in the park, and lively puppies need training.
The first step then in learning mindfulness meditation is to train our puppy mind to metaphorically sit, but just like we treat a puppy with loving kindness and patience, this is the attitude you need to adopt towards your mind. If you tell your mind off for wandering (and thinking), then it will become more rebellious. It will not settle down. So we adopt a patient, kind attitude towards our minds, just like we would towards a little puppy.
Then we rest our awareness on a target. It can be the breath or sensations in the body and when we notice that the mind has wandered into thinking, we gently and with great patience and loving kindness bring it back to the target. In other words, we keep bringing our puppy mind back to 'sit' on the breath or bodily sensations.
The mind will wander, we notice, we bring it back to the target (the breath or body sensations). We do this over and over and over again for a set number of minutes each day. The more you notice that your mind has wandered away from the breath and bring it back to the target, the more mindful you are being. Most people are so fused with their thoughts that they don't even know that they are thinking, they are in a kind of waking dream state, so the very fact that you realise that you thinking is waking up from the dream - mindfulness.
So if you are one of these people who say they can't meditate because their mind wanders too much, actually you are doing it right, because by noticing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the target, you have been mindful. Congratulations.
If you keep doing this 'puppy training' meditation each day, you will notice that your mind settles down and sits for longer stretches on the breath, but it will never stop thinking, it will just calm down and thank goodness for that, because it means you are alive and safe!
For more information on the meditation and mindfulness classes and courses we offer in London please do contact us.