How to Meditate Without Even Trying
One of the topics that Eckhart and I discussed in our conversation was how effortless meditation should be, that no striving or concentration is needed. Some of you might be surprised when you first hear this. I know I was. When I first began meditation, I was repeatedly told that it took great mental discipline and many years of practice.
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.
But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that 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 at ease. More often than not, the very opposite. 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 after the event. Or we may spend hours worrying about situations that could occur, but seldom do.
Along with such feelings come an almost endless procession of thoughts. Most of these thoughts boil down to worries about how we can be more at peace. Yet, ironically, a worried mind is, by definition, not at peace. This is the sad joke about human beings. We are so busy worrying whether or not we are going to be at peace in the future, we don’t give ourselves the chance to be at peace in the present.
Given how easily such thoughts arise, it is easy to assume they must be subdued and controlled. But that approach stems from the same belief that created them—the belief that we need to be in control of things in order to feel at peace. As a variety of meditation traditions have revealed, a more effective approach is to accept that thoughts occur and learn how to work with them.
Such approaches might be best summarized as:
- When you realize you have been caught in a thought, don’t judge or blame yourself. It happens, even to the most experienced meditators.
- Instead of following the thought, as you might do in normal life, gently shift your attention back to some experience in the present moment. In TM that may be the thought of a mantra, in mindfullness the sensation of the breath, or in other practices a visual image, a feeling of love, or the presence of self.
- Let your attention rest in that experience. Don’t try to concentrate or hold it there. Ah yes, you will be sure to wander off again. But the practice is not learning how to stay present, but how to return to the present.
Even then, trying and effort can arise in subtle ways. Maybe if I just added this or focused on that, it would be easier. Some of it is so subtle that we don’t even notice we are doing it. A faint resistance to an experience perhaps. Even a slight wanting to have a good meditation can get in the way.
Recently, I’ve been exploring ways to weed out and dissolve even the subtlest levels of wanting, effort, and expectation in meditation. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response these approaches have received from both complete beginners and people with many years of experience, I am now sharing them in a new, pay-what-you-wish online course.
It is available at: peterrussell.com/Meditation.
Peter Russell is an author and teacher focusing on consciousness and contemporary spirituality. His books include The Global Brain, Waking Up in Time, and From Science to God. Peter believes that the critical challenge today is to free human thinking from the limited beliefs and attitudes that lie behind so many of our problems—personal, social, and global. His mission is to distill the essential wisdom on human consciousness found in the world’s various spiritual traditions, and to disseminate their teachings on selfliberation in contemporary and compelling ways. He has a rich website, full of articles, audios, and videos of his ideas at peterrussell.com
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