How I Calmed My Mother Down and Convinced Her To Stick With Meditating
I was talking with my mother the other day. She knows I’ve practiced meditation and other mindfulness techniques for several years now. She was frustrated with the beginnings of her own practice — with every effort she would lose focus quickly and her thoughts would wander without purpose causing agitation rather than relaxation. “What’s the point?” she asked. “That is the point,” I answered. She didn’t like this response. She is where I once was, trying to rationalize an objective, a goal to accomplish. In listening to the start of her practice, I recalled four “milestones” from my own.
1. Build A Practice — Just Sit
When I first started playing lacrosse I was, understandably, terrible. It was brand new to me. But at the age of five, I had the joy of not knowing that I wasn’t supposed to immediately be good. Likely because of that, I stuck with it. My older brother was kind enough to have a short catch with me almost every day that first summer. And I got a little bit better each day.
When I first started meditating as an adult, I was, I thought, terrible at it. I had not yet realized that meditation is not something I could win. Like my mother, I became frustrated, even infuriated, as my thoughts would hijack me immediately and constantly. Three minutes of sitting was like climbing Everest. But I learned that though I couldn’t corral my thoughts, what I could do was commit to building my practice. So I made a commitment to just sit, in one spot, quietly, every day, for five minutes, or ten minutes, or maybe even twenty minutes. That’s it. If you do this, don’t set a finish line, not yet. Just sit as long as you can or are able, even if it’s only five minutes. Notice how you feel before, and after each sit. Notice how your practice is different after three or four weeks of just sitting.
2. My Mind is Going to Think…Constantly
This is inevitable, it’s what our mind is programmed to do. It responds to stimuli, as our senses are constantly shouting back at us. It’s a computer that wants to grab on to something, to work on it, analyze it, do something with it. All I could do was get a little bit better each time in noticing when it took off on its own and took me with it, and then came back into my body in that present moment of sitting. It was about not getting lost or carried away by my thoughts, but rather journeying away from where I was in that moment. And building that muscle of watching my mind wander, being okay with it, and then coming back into this moment, over and over, until I began spending less time lost with my thoughts, and more time in the here and now. (Looking ahead, as a result, the conversations with other people that I now have are much more interesting and rich. I spend far less time half listening in anticipation of responding, and far more time actually hearing what is said.)
3. My Mind Needs Space
It’s like the old relationship cliché, “I just need space.” It turns out, so does my mind. As my practice evolved, I noticed that the more I tried to exercise control over my mind, keeping it in the here and now, the more it wandered. One day I decided to just let it go. I stopped trying to keep it here, or to even bring it back to the moment. I just gave it permission to run and do whatever it wanted in the infinite space it has. And you know what? Pretty soon it lost interest and calmed down, like a dog that’s run itself out. And each time I did this it took a little bit less time for that dog to tire out and come back to curl up at my feet (or at least start nosing me saying, “hey, what’re you doing?”) All I had to do was give it space.
4. The Mind’s Eye Shifts
At a certain point, my mind found something new to be interested in. After that small milestone of my mind wearing itself out with thought when I let it wander free, it found another object on which to focus. It found itself. It began to turn and look inward. This started a whole new round of running away, only now thinking about itself (how narcissistic, no…?) As frustrating as this was at first, and it was frustrating, once I got past the idea that I was just focusing on myself, I understood that I was accessing a deeper layer of myself. My own thoughts had become objects to look at. And I reminded myself of #2 and #3 above. I let it think. I gave it space. And then I noticed how interesting it was that I was watching my mind think.
But if my mind is me, who is it that’s watching?
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