This was a text I received from one of the students in my meditation class. We have been meeting regularly online and after one session, he formulated his frustrations in this way. He didn’t think he was doing it properly.
Would it be possible to have some more information as to the point of each meditation? What are we looking to achieve? How do you empty your mind?
(Inquisitive meditation student)
It’s a brilliant question.
The answer I gave him was that there is no point to meditation.
Of course it would be. Try to think of any other activities in your life with no set objective? That can either be an objective given to you, or an objective you have set yourself.
You might think twice about getting about of bed every morning at 6am if you didn’t have to go to work, for example. Even in your leisure time, you probably task yourself with having fun, chilling out, getting drunk (delete where appropriate).
I imagine your next question is, “But isn’t meditation about relieving stress, emptying your mind?”
The thing is, first off, you can’t empty your mind. Each of us has about 6000 thoughts a day. That’s just what minds do.
Secondly, yes, meditation is an approach to life that can help to alleviate stress, but that is not the point of it.
Thirdly, thoughts aren’t inherently stressful until we accord them emotion. Then they take on the potential to be.
Meditation is a practice we have largely lost. It’s just about being with ourselves. And in doing this, we learn not simply to alleviate stress, but to not create it in the first place.
You don’t empty your mind. You learn to disassociate the emotional reaction from the thought.
How? By training our brain to do these three things …
Accept things for what they are
In our Western modern-day world, we compute this idea of just doing something without any desired outcome with severe difficulty, as our life is structured around either ruminating on the past, or projecting ourselves into an unknown future.
Because that future is unknown and that scares the sh*t out of us, we decide to structure that future with milestones. We set ourselves objectives. The achievement, or not, of those objectives becomes demonstrative of our success or failure.
But, think about it, doesn’t objective or goal setting encourage expectation, and potentially disappointment?
It’s like that old motto: if you don’t expect anything in life, you won’t be disappointed. It is often misquoted to encourage a lack of ambition or drive. What it really means is go after all those things you want, but don’t attach expectation to the outcome.
If there is no objective, you can’t fail. If you don’t fail, you don’t suffer.
The fact of the matter is that the past is the past and cannot be changed and the future is yet to be known. Projecting an outcome, and then an expectation on that outcome, is largely a waste of time.
It was not an enigmatic guru that taught me this, but my rather irritable lawyer who helped me through my separation with my ex-partner.
She looked at me one day, audibly sighed and said:
Ah, Madame (we were in France), you have projected three possible scenarios in your head: A, B and C. For each of these scenarios, you have accorded 4 different outcomes and how you will react to them. That means you are considering 12 potential possibilities, when only one will happen.
(Unnamed irritable French lawyer)
She was right.
Stop judging situations
When we accept things for just what they are, we do not accord any judgement.
What do I mean by judgement? It is an emotive reaction to a situation. It is a judgement call on whether something is good or bad, fair or unfair, achievable or impossible.
Any judgement we accord to anything is based on past experience rather than the moment at hand. Judgement constitutes reactions to events which are linked to our neural programming. Our brains are wired to meet with an experience in the same way we met with similar experiences in the past.
This can be the past as in our own lifetime or indeed our evolutionary past.
You have probably all heard of the “fight-or-flight” reaction. It is a reaction by our sympathetic nervous system to a perceived attack or threat to survival. The hormones secreted along with our neurotransmitters dictate how we react to the danger — do we fight or run away?
On an evolutionary level, this armed us for predators such as the sabre-toothed tiger. Nowadays, man is more the predator than the prey, but we all still have this in-built stress response.
It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.
(Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace)
You can also simply accord yourself time before you react to things. How many mails have you responded to immediately only to realise that you misread the situation by making assumptions according to what has happened to you before.
How many times have you told your kids off only to find out it wasn’t actually their fault this time around ?
Live in the present moment
Labelling experience in a judgemental way, makes of us prisoners to our neural programming and causes us to lose objectivity.
Accepting things for what they are without according any judgement and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, allows us to avoid the rabbit hole of automatic reaction.
It’s called letting go, or in more colloquial terms it is the “Whatever!” reaction. We witness and acknowledge what is happening, but we don’t ask ourselves the whys and wherefores.
In daily life this doesn’t translate as not giving a damn about what is happening around you. It is not about dismissing what other people are going through. It is about not judging how and why they are where they are or what the outcome will be for them.
And that actually allows you to have more empathy with those around you, but also encourages you to be less hard on yourself.
And as we all know, each of us is our own worst critic.
Do those three things sound difficult to you? It is because they are. Your brain has had years of being programmed to do the opposite. Meditation actually rewires the brain.
Meditation teaches you to just be.
Not to empty your mind.
Just to be with yourself.
Just to be in the present moment.
People can be frightened by meditation. I have friends who actively find every number of excuses to not come to my classes. I can see they are generally scared of the unknown and where meditation might lead them.
Meditation doesn’t ask you to empty your mind. It just takes you back to your essence. It takes you back to who you were before you started micro-organising your life and aligning it to a series of outcomes.
And you only do that because that is what your parents taught you to do as a child.
Rather than be in the moment and play in that sandpit of life a bit more, you were whisked on a fast-track course to adulthood, which involved getting good marks at school, playing a range of instruments and team sports, projecting on a career and a family life to make you as “successful” as everyone else.
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