Sunday, December 19, 2010


I think a lot of people go about meditation for the wrong reasons. To meditate for a reason at all is misguided: meditating for relaxation or for enlightenment is self-defeating. I mean, isn't it a bit of an oxymoron to relax for a purpose, or to try to be utterly present for the (future) goal of enlightenment?

But as for technique; it seems many people meditate to quiet 'the monkey mind;" that is, to stop the endless stream of thoughts that keeps us wound up. I've been there. When I first got into meditation at age 20, I was battling a mind that was literally wall to wall packed with thoughts; I was desperately looking for an off-switch. Slowly I learned the ropes, and the gaps and silences expanded. I think this was largely by accident, because I wasn't following a good practice by trying to quiet my mind with effort.

See, meditation is like laying on your back watching the clouds. You know, like on those warm summer days where there are endlessly varied cloudforms, and you lay there naming them all. Meditation isn't about cloudbusting, nor about cloudless skies, per se. It's about shifting your gaze away from the fascination of the cloudforms completely and onto the clear blue void. A void that doesn't need any bringing into existence, as it is there all the while. And you can't do a thing about the clouds, they're going to be there. Let them.

Many beginners sit there, trying to have a clear mind. When they start getting caught up in thinking (as we all do), they think, "No! I'm supposed to have a clear mind," and force the thought away. This is, of course, more thinking, and negetive thinking at that. Also it can lead to surpression of thoughts and that is never good, they'll build up down below and finally explode.

It is better to accept the thoughts for what they are while shifting your focus and identification off of them altogether, watching rather the silences and spaces, however small. The thoughts become fewer on their own, without effort, and all along, almost magically, the quiet moments seem to grow. The silence is there all along, you just gotta chill out. You don't sit for a purpose, to turn the mind off. You simply sit, relaxing. Relaxing, the mind begins to cease exuding thought, and peace grows.

May I switch metaphors? Meditating with effort, to force unwanted thoughts away, is like trying to smooth water by flattening the waves with your hand. This makes more waves. Instead, you sit back and let it still itself. Read the phrase again, and see how it contradicts any sense of meditative calm: "meditating with effort, to force unwanted thoughts away..."

Thoughts are commotion, as is effort. How, by commotion, can you stop the commotion? Relax, dammit!


  1. I get the gist of what you are saying here and agree with most of it, except the first part.

    #1 I don't think there is ever a wrong reason for meditating, nor is there anything wrong with having a reason for meditating, or meditating for a specific goal. Meditation is a multifaceted excerise. There are many different meditational practices, some are more goal orientated than others, and some are specifically meant for relaxation, but all invariably involve relaxation as a beginning point, before progressing to deeper levels of concentration, visualization, and insight.

    #2 What's wrong with meditating for relaxation? It works. There is a cause and effect relationship between meditation and relaxation. In my case, having the goal of relaxation while meditating, has never hindered my ability to relax. You just don't cling to it. You state the goal, and then you let it go. Relaxation is a noble goal. But not the only goal, it's sort of a foundational goal, an essential prerequisite for reaching higher states of thinking, concentration, creative problem solving, creativity and insight.

    If you are not relaxed you cannot concentrate. If you cannot concentrate, you are less aware of what's going on around you, as well as within you, your memory suffers, your intelligence is reduced, as is the quality of your life.

    Therefore relaxation is an absolute essential step in any meditational practice.

  2. Not so sure the void is blue...that sounds like the Microsoft screen of death.

    Nice post.

    And I guess you're not just 20.

  3. I agree with ya!! For years, I tried to teach myself to meditate, but it never took. So, I threw up my hands and gave up. Once I quit trying to force it, it came naturally. Now, I can drift away at most any moment in almost any setting.

  4. Good point, Cym, I should have worded that differently. Still, I do find myself resisting all the popular meditation being peddled out there, where the whole focus is relaxation. It's like people are missing everything: getting medicine, dumping it out, and keeping the bottle.

  5. Love this post! It certainly helped me ;)