How to Meditate when you have a Restless Mind
Many people choose vigorous activities instead of meditation because they have agitated minds. But both of these are perfectly compatible. And for many, they are both necessary.
When we sit down for meditation, most of us experience an overpowering amount of thoughts which disturb and stop us from reaching the state of meditation. For many, this constant stream of thoughts keeps them so agitated and restless, they give up and decide to try a more strenuous or challenging activity. But these people, are precisely those who need meditation the most.
A restless mind needs to be put to rest, by managing the mind and not by tiring the body. The thoughts we are constantly trying to evade by hitting the gym or going out for that morning run will not disappear. They remain within, lingering in the mind, and we will have to face them sooner or later.
So how do we learn how to meditate if we have a restless mind? First we must understand what meditation is.
What is the objective of meditation?
The primary aim of meditation is not stillness of the body; neither is it stillness of the mind. The key objective of meditation is to extend our awareness, so that in turn our actions may become harmonious. Meditation is the expansion of consciousness.
Patanjali –the father of modern yoga– defined meditation as the state in which the mind is able to transcend the knowledge derived from the five senses (the way we gather most of our information) and when consciousness is functioning around a single point simultaneously.
Transcending the thoughts rather than controlling them
Our thoughts come in the form of desires, expectations, worries, memories etc. All of these, and how we feel about them are fed to us by our five senses. The main task is not to switch off or stop the senses but to transcend them. Just as our breathing, heartbeat or other bodily process don’t affect our capacity of concentration or meditation, in the same way our thoughts should not affect our mind.
Observing the thoughts
The greatest way to transcend the thoughts, is to observe them impartially. By becoming a detached spectator to the constant flow of thoughts, we in turn magnify our awareness. Eventually, as we get used to this practice, the flow of thoughts becomes slower. Ultimately, there comes a point when we are perfectly capable of stopping them at will.
Stop worrying, we don’t know what’s going to happen anyway.
Worries and fears occupy a large part of our thoughts. We all worry about something, which hampers our ability to enjoy the present moment. But all worries and fears are based around a past memory or about a future possibility. We need to let go of the past and value whatever lesson we learnt. And under no circumstances must we worry about the future, because one can never know what will or will not happen. Life works in mysterious and surprising ways.
Let go of your desires, remain content as you are.
Most of our desires come from the idea that we must achieve something. The very start of desire is an acknowledgement that we are unsatisfied with our present state. Our desires are the biggest obstacle in our spiritual path, and sooner or later we will have to let go of them. Buddha used to say, even the desire to have no desire is an obstacle towards Nirvana. The Bhagavad Gita states “You cannot get into Yoga unless you drop the desires within you”.
The meditative journey must start by letting go of the desire to meditate. We must let go of the desire to achieve anything, and forget the expectation of controlling our thoughts. We let the thoughts come and go as they must, remaining impartial witnesses.
Accept the Negative
We often try to resist the negative thoughts within us by focusing on something else. But we all know, what we try to resist endures. We may evade a negative thought or memory for a day or a week, maybe a month or even a few years but ultimately it will find us. And the longer we delay it, the more we strengthen its influence over us. Instead, we must accept our negative thoughts, watch them carefully, remaining completely detached. Repeating the process, until they disappear, until they no longer have any influence over us.
Sleep well at night
Getting a good night’s sleep and being well rested are crucial. Otherwise meditation just ends up being a nap. Often people think they are meditating, when they are actually sleeping in a seated position. They then believe their experiences to be meditative experiences, when they are actually dreams.
Practice Antar Mouna
The practice of Antar Mouna or inner silence, was specifically designed to transcend the thoughts and prepare yogis for deep meditation. It first helps clear the thoughts within the mind, followed by the emotions. Slowly clearing the entire mind-field, it brings the state of inner silence by which we can fall into a deep state of meditation.