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When most people think about meditation, they imagine a clear, blank mind. That’s definitely what I thought it was. Before I quit university in England to spend 10 years in various parts of Asia studying meditation to become a Buddhist monk, I imagined that I would be sitting on a mountaintop feeling totally blissed out—that I would have no thoughts at all for many years. The reality is that it’s the nature of the mind to think, and we can’t control it. If we were able to control the brain and turn off our thoughts, there’d be no need for meditation. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to clear your mind, either. In fact, if you have an anxious thought, trying to clear it often makes you feel more anxious, which can be frustrating. And then you’re not just anxious—you’re also angry. And once you’re anxious and angry, there’s a good chance it’s going to make you sad. This happens all day, every day, in our minds. It may go on for just a few minutes, it may go on for the whole day or it may go on for weeks at a time.
Meditation is not about turning off thoughts or searching for a clearing; it’s about stepping back. It’s a way to help you let the thoughts pass by, like traffic on a busy street; what’s important is not getting caught up or stopped by those thoughts. So when a feeling or thought comes up, that’s okay. It comes, it goes and it doesn’t bother you—that’s the real sweet spot. You can’t operate in life with a clear mind all the time. Anyone can have peace of mind when they’re feeling calm and clear; meditation is about attaining a peaceful mind when it’s clouded with thoughts. Learning to be at ease even when the mind is busy is amazing. What tends to happen is this: The more you learn the behaviour of stepping back, the more the thoughts start to slow down naturally—and from there you’ll find a little bit of calm. When you’re calm, you get a bit of clarity, and clarity leads to more contentment. At that point, there’s usually more space in your mind. And when you’re less caught up in your own stuff, there’s more room for compassion for others.
How to meditate when you feel ready to implode. Start with 10 minutes a day and work your way up to 30 minutes if you can.
1. Find a quiet space where you can relax, and sit on a chair.
2. Defocus your eyes by gazing softly into the middle distance.
3. Observe your posture and notice the sensations of your body on the chair. Acknowledge your senses. Close your eyes.
4. Turn your mind inward and mentally scan your body, from head to toe, observing any
tension or discomfort.
5. Bring your attention to your breathing, but don’t make any effort to change it. Observe the rising and falling sensation that it creates in your body.
6. You might find yourself inundated with thoughts and plans or feel calm and focused. Whatever happens is completely fine.
7. Become aware once more of the physical feelings: the chair beneath you, where your feet make contact with the floor, your arms, your hands resting in your lap. Notice anything you can hear, smell, taste or feel.
8. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.