When you begin your mindfulness practice you will at some point be likely to encounter one of two common problems. Over time it is possible that you may even experience them both.
The first common problem you might encounter is that when you sit down to meditate you discover that there is so much going on in your mind that it seems like you have no chance at all of ever becoming peaceful or quiet. When confronted with this problem it is obviously important to be patient and practice self-compassion. As we discussed in January’s Meditation Tip it often takes a while to get the hang of meditation, but if you stick with it, it won’t be long before you begin to experience some success.
One particularly helpful meditation technique for this type of overactive mind is to begin to notice the brief natural pauses or moments of stillness that are already a part of your daily routine. And training your attention to notice these brief natural pauses or periods of silence is a type of meditation exercise you can practice throughout your day. It might be as simple as a few moments when you are caught at a red light, or while you are waiting in line to check out at the grocery store. In these brief natural breaks in the rhythm of life simply take the opportunity to stop and be fully present. As the old railroad sign used to say - Stop, Look, Listen. See what is going on around you, both in your experience of yourself and your experience of the outside world. JUST BE PRESENT. As you become more aware of these spontaneous opportunities to be still, you will gradually learn how to unwind and rest more comfortably in the eternal now of this present moment.
Another related but more sophisticated meditation practice that helps with this problem of a busy mind is to begin to notice the space between your thoughts. It will take some focus and concentration to find these natural breaks in the seemingly endless trains of fast-moving thoughts, one right after the other. But you can practice this technique during your meditation sessions, and it is a very powerful technique for gradually bringing more moments of peace and stillness into an overactive mind.
The second common problem you might encounter when you begin a meditation practice is in some ways the exact opposite of the first. In this case when you turn your attention to the present moment you find that there is absolutely nothing happening at all. How boring. How uninspiring. How dull! In this situation it is best to begin by at first simply accepting and being with the emptiness or blankness itself. Our culture tends to mistake speed and busyness for true quality and achievement, so it’s important for your meditation practice to challenge this assumption by consciously slowing down and learning to appreciate each moment on its own terms. As the great poet Rumi says in his poem The Guest House, "Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond."
This second problem is ultimately an invitation to listen to yourself more closely. Often when you feel dull, empty, or bored it’s a result of shutting out parts of your experience that for whatever reason you don’t want to deal with. As a result you feel stuck or disconnected. And you miss out on the important messages you are sending yourself that have been avoided or denied. The remedy is to bring your focus back to the present moment and sit with an open and willing attitude toward whatever is truly happening in your experience right now. With practice your awareness and sensitivity will increase considerably - bringing a whole new depth and richness to your experience of life.
One particularly good meditation technique for this problem is the practice of bringing your attention into your body. Simply take a few moments periodically throughout the day and check in with yourself. Try focusing on whatever is happening in your body right now. You may discover you are tired, hungry, comfortable, whatever. The possibilities of this moment are truly endless! With the right kind of consistent practice, meditation will eventually re-introduce you to your own self and in the process greatly enhance your quality of life.