Have you ever felt as if your mind was driving you crazy? Does the chatter in your head go on endlessly? Meditation appears to be a simple answer to this: just calm the mind and pay attention to the present. Then how come it is not so easy? My thoughts are driving me mad! My mind will not be quiet! I can’t relax! Sound familiar?
The mind is notoriously resistant to being quiet, so as soon as we sit still it seems to do everything it can to distract us. Habitual thinking kicks in and within a few minutes an internal dialogue takes over, the body starts to fidget, or trivial things that need to be done suddenly appear vitally important. The mind has often been compared to a “drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion.” Just as a monkey leaps from tree to tree, so the mind leaps from one drama to another, constantly distracted.
When we start to meditate we then find all this chaotic activity going on and it seems so noisy that we believe that we cannot possibly be still. Actually, it is simply because we are now becoming aware of the noise, whereas before we were so immersed in it we were unaware that such chatter was so constant.
In our book, Be The Change, Professor Robert Thurman says: “The first step is to try to focus our mind on something, like counting the breath. When we do, we see all these runaway thoughts that race through the mind, like I wonder when my car will be ready, is my parking meter overdue, will I get a ticket, is my girlfriend happy? Our minds are filled with these preoccupations, and we do not even realize it. But we can just let them go and bring the mind back to something we do want to focus on. This is a beginning, calming, waking-up step. But more important is to choose positive thoughts to focus on, such as I want to be more loving to that person who annoys me, I want to be more content, I want to be more friendly, peaceful, happy, and I no longer need to suffer.”
Having a busy mind is very normal. Someone once estimated that in any one thirty-minute session of meditation we may have upward of three hundred thoughts. After years of distraction the mind is not always so ready to be quiet. We cannot suddenly turn our thinking off; that would be like trying to catch the wind. But having a busy mind does not mean we cannot meditate, it just means we are like everyone else. What we can do is make friends with our mind, thereby changing it from being an enemy to our ally.