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How to Meditate Without Even Trying
You may be surprised to hear that meditation should be effortless, that no striving or concentration is needed. I know I was. When I first became interested in meditation, back in the mid-60s, I was repeatedly told that it took great mental discipline and many years of practice. Indian teachers had likened the mind to a wagonload of restless monkeys that needed to be tied down and kept quiet.
And my experience appeared to confirm it. My mind was full of thoughts, and try as I may, I could not keep them at bay. Like many others, I naturally assumed that I was not trying hard enough; I needed greater mental discipline, not less.
Then I chanced upon Transcendental Meditation. Its teacher, the Maharishi of Beatles fame, challenged the whole notion of trying to control the mind. The monkeys, he pointed out, were wanting something — more bananas perhaps. Give them what they want and they will settle down of their own accord. So with the mind; it is restless because we are seeking something. And what is it we are seeking? In the final analysis, we all want to feel better — to be happier, more at peace, at ease, fulfilled, content. He argued that if we give the mind a taste of the inner contentment it is looking for, it will be attracted to it and begin to settle down of its own accord.
This made more sense to me than what I’d come across so far, so I learned his practice. And it worked. I found my mind becoming quiet without any effort. Indeed, as soon as I inadvertently started trying to control the process, in the hope that I could somehow help my meditation along, it did not work so well.
Now I am not suggesting that this applies to every type of meditation. Techniques designed to cultivate particular mental skills or states of mind, may well involve a degree of concentration or mental discipline. But when it comes to the basic skill of relaxing into a quieter state of mind, effort generally turns out to be counter-productive.
A quiet mind is not a state of mind to be achieved. It is the state we experience when there is nothing to be achieved. It is the mind in its natural condition, untarnished by fears and desires, and the thoughts they create. When everything is OK in our world, we feel OK inside; we are at ease.
Or rather, that is the way it should be. Yet, even when all our physical needs are met, and there is no immediate threat or danger, we seldom feel totally at ease. More often than not, we feel the very opposite — it leave us with nothing to do, and most of us start getting bored. If someone upsets us, we may hold a grievance days, weeks, or even years later. Or we may spend hours worrying about situations that could occur, but seldom do.