My oldest son started college this past fall.
We have always been close and we are both verbal processors. Now that he is away, we don’t have much time to talk so when he does come home, I relish our time together. The first night he is home we stay up until about two in the morning while he shows me his newest drawings and shows me the skills he’s working on. He tells me about his newest philosophical meanderings, the new (often fervent) ideas he’s forming. He talks non-stop for about five hours. We touch base periodically while he’s home and then before he leaves, we usually have another “processing session”.
I love the way he thinks and that he thinks so deeply about things. There are places I agree and places I do not agree. We are very much alike and we can get a little twisted up about things from time to time but in the end we hug and we love each other very much.
As I prepare to start another year teaching meditation, I’ve been thinking about the similarities between my son’s first night at home and the beginning meditator’s mind. These late night gab sessions with my son are the result of the fact that we have not had time to sit together and to listen to each other. In all honesty, my son and I only struggle when I become resistant to his argument and try to shut him down (something I try not to do, but it’s one of my parenting challenges). When we can stay present with each other and listen deeply, the talk eventually plays out and we can just be together in the present moment for the rest of his time home.
And this is what it is like when we begin to meditate. We sit down and breathe, expecting to find peace and solace, and find instead our very busy minds.
“I just can’t stop thinking.”
But that very busy mind is much like my son and me. We haven’t had time together. All day long our bodies and minds are very busy conducting the business of our lives, but underneath it all is the busy chatter of the mind processing all of our experiences, evaluating them, making sense of them. When was the last time you stopped and listened to all of that chatter?
When we attempt meditation, believing that the goal is to stop thinking, we find ourselves in the very same kind of struggle I get into with my son. We tighten and resist and our time to be with ourselves becomes a struggle rather than quality time.
In mindfulness meditation, we focus on the breath as an anchor to go back to when the thoughts carry us away, but staying near the anchor, allowing the thoughts to pass through, observing the thoughts with gentle kindness allows you the opportunity to sit with yourself, to hear and see yourself and to know yourself.
When I have a disruption in my own meditation practice, I can feel the physiological effects of the agitated mind, like a child tantrumming in a desperate attempt to get attention. Not until I stop, breathe and sit patiently with my thoughts do they calm down and allow me to be present once more.
So when the thoughts come, remember, this is not failure. This is your mind’s way of saying, “Please pay attention.”