The single biggest challenge to mindfulness practices, or to meditation is the monkey mind as it is sometimes called. The mind races after so many thoughts, conjures up so many worries and anticipations! Many people can’t seem to quiet their minds even for a minute, let alone a 15-minute meditation. That’s why so much meditation help is out there – like music or apps such as Headspace and Calm.
But have you ever stopped to wonder why the mind is like that? What’s driving it to constantly sweep you away on a stream of never-ending thoughts? Actually the cause is within ourselves. The reason is that we are deeply identified with things that we are not. The list of identifications are as endless as the thoughts they spark. Whether we are identified with our work, our possessions, our clothes, our bank accounts, our self-image, our families, our friends or enemies, our politics, our religions, our affiliations, our education, our social networks, our race, our heritage, our looks, our gender, and yes even our bodies… We tag these things as part of who we are, as us, thereby binding the mind to this web, and then we wonder why the mind is not at rest. We cannot force such a mind to be silent.
The mind is an intellectual tool. Its purpose is to be used consciously to understand life and seek solutions. But right now, for so many it is a ball of confusion, and a cause of anxiety. The way out isn’t forcing the mind to sit still. The way out is to become aware of all the things we are not, and to stop identifying with those things – to drop the nonsense and the baggage! And bringing awareness that actually we are not the mind, and to create some space between our consciousness and our minds. This is why in meditation we are taught to witness arising thoughts without engagement, let them go by, and to gently bring awareness back to the breath. This is creating that space between our pure consciousness and our minds.
Another aspect of this is – let’s just look at ourselves in the course of a day – how often we have the compulsion to talk! We always have something to say – some opinion or advice to impart, some news to spread, some pride to pepper around. Quieting the mind also has to do with this, and while we don’t live in a monastery, this is exactly what the vow of silence is all about. Can we try going an hour without uttering a word, unless absolutely necessary? It’s something to try! See how difficult it is, and that is a measure of how wound up the mind is, and how much value we’ve placed on our own thoughts.
So what to do about a whirling mind? Realize that you are not your identifications (just observe how quickly they change over your life, so how can they be you?) And find that space between the inner you (your soul if you like) and the mental mechanisms that also are not you.
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