As I’ve been working with people who are new to meditation the first myth I encounter is, “Well I just can’t get my mind to shut off.” I always smile when I hear this. It is the beginning of an awareness of just how distracted our thinking typically is, but needn't lead us to conclude that we "just can't meditate."
Brains think. Brains think in the same way that ears hear and eyes see. It is in our brain’s nature to be thinking. Meditation is no magic off switch for our brain. Rather, Zen meditation, known as zazen, and other similar meditation techniques such as mindfulness and vipassana, are about changing our relationship with the constant stream of thoughts generated by our mind.
When we sit in zazen we still the body and eventually calm down the waves of the mind by bringing our attention to our breath. Gently counting each breath gives us an anchor for our focus. If you are like me, it is impossible to get to the count of three without a thought intruding. “I must pick up bananas at the store today!” Without judgment or criticism I recognize the thought, let it go and return my attention to the breath.
My meditation practice is not a practice of a blank mind, rather it is a practice of returning. I recognize a thought, let it go and return to my breath. Slowly over time my thoughts are less disruptive and I settle into a more peaceful practice. Brains think, eyes see and ears hear. Simply letting go of thinking and return to the breath over and over is a powerful meditation practice.
May your practice go well!
- Anthony Cernera