Watch your breath… so simple. But, as you will know if you’ve ever tried, simple is not the same as easy. I think that’s why it’s so easy to get frustrated with meditation – because the idea is so simple, we expect to be able to do it. But ease only comes through familiarity – this is true of everything. I remember when I first started learning to drive: it seemed impossible that I would ever be able to co-ordinate all those hands and feet to do separate, seemingly disconnected, things. In fact, it carried on feeling that way for a long time – over two years worth of lessons and two failed driving tests – but it did eventually become easy. How? Just through familiarity.
It’s the same with meditation: we’re trying to do something very unfamiliar to us, i.e. relax. We try to relax all the time: we soak in the tub or go on foreign holidays, depending on our budget; but however much money we throw at the problem, relaxing is a lot harder than it sounds, because we’re simply not used to it. If our mind is busy, we will not feel relaxed. So although meditation might not be easy, don’t give in to the frustration: the results will be worth it.
In Introduction to Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:
The purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and peaceful. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness; but if our mind is not peaceful, we will find it very difficult to be happy, even if we are living in the very best conditions. If we train in meditation, our mind will gradually become more and more peaceful, and we will experience a purer and purer form of happiness.
When we’re trying to concentrate, then it is inevitable that sometimes (approximately every two seconds, if you’re like me) distracting thoughts will come along. We want them to go away and leave us in peace, so the instinct is to push them away, to set up a little battle: ‘I am such an interesting idea’ versus ‘get lost, I’m trying to meditate!’
Pushing our thoughts away simply doesn’t work: it is just focusing more attention on them and therefore giving them more power. It’s like getting into an argument with a teenager: whatever you say, they will disagree with automatically. In the same way, when we wrestle with our distractions, the more we push the harder they push back, until instead of a little distraction we find ourselves obsessing over different varieties of cat food or something equally ridiculous.
Stop fighting. Instead of giving ourselves a hard time and getting frustrated with how distracted we are, just accept that as the state of play. With that acceptance, our mind relaxes, and we’re more able to let the distraction go. Not shove it away, but just lose interest and let it drift away.
Unsurprisingly, having a relaxed attitude towards meditation makes it much more enjoyable! I remember when I first started to practice, I would try so hard, screwing my face up as I tried to force myself to concentrate, getting so frustrated when distractions took over… Eventually, I stopped judging my success by how well I had concentrated, and instead started judging my meditation on how well I had managed to not get frustrated by my lack of concentration. That was when I actually started to enjoy meditation, even though I was still hopeless at it!
So try to just relax, let go gently instead of pushing, and see if that helps your distractions to leave you in peace.