When I was first taught meditation, it was a type of meditation similar to what is called TM, or Transcendental Meditation. Have you heard of it?
My First Experience of Meditation
If I wanted to learn this meditation I was asked by the organisation to pay a month’s wages (or maybe it was a week’s wages...I can’t remember...I know it wasn’t much as I was a poor student!) and offer a white cloth to represent purity and some flowers to represent something else.
Anyway, in exchange for these gifts and payment, the teacher taught me meditation. I remember feeling quite embarrassed walking on the streets of London early on a Sunday morning with these seemingly odd gifts, to give to someone I didn’t even know.
After meeting the teacher one to one in a quiet room, I was given what I was told was a secret mantra. I eventually found out most people were given the same mantra. I was taught to repeat the word, the mantra, in my head repeatedly and to concentrate on it.
At first, it seemed to work really well! My mind calmed down and I felt better. But after many months, I got bored of repeating that word to be honest. The process felt too mechanical to me. And having read research by Dr. Herbert Benson in his book the Relaxation Response, I found it didn’t really matter what word was used. As long as you used any word and quietly repeated it for a while, your mind would calm down, your blood pressure would decrease and you’d enjoy some health benefits. My skepticism had returned.
Some years later, looking for research papers on meditation, I came across mindfulness meditation. In this meditation, I was again taught to concentrate, but this time often on my breath. My mind kept wandering but the teacher patiently kept teaching - don’t worry if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back...again and again. The ideal would be to be concentrated on the breathing...this was a bit better than the mantra meditation, but still didn’t feel quite right. Something was still missing for me. But I didn’t know what.
Exploring True Mindfulness Through Letting Go
Finally, I discovered another way to meditate, which I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. A meditation I refer to as Kindfulness. I believe this isn’t a new type of meditation, but is actually the meditation that the Buddha recommended, but has become lost in translation - literally.
The last part of the eightfold path in Buddhist meditation is called Samadhi. Most people translate the word to mean concentration, but that’s incorrect according to my teacher Ajahn Brahm. He considers it a gross mistaken translation by Rhys Davids more than a hundred years ago. Mindfulness is a great translation of Sati, but concentration, which implies effort rather than letting go, is a very unhelpful translation of Samadhi.
Samadhi actually means stillness. The mistranslation as concentration has caused a lot of suffering and a lot of headaches. There are even lots of monks and nuns getting ‘meditation headaches’ due to their efforts trying to concentrate on their breathing so much!
How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation Through Stillness
True meditation is about stillness, not concentration. Concentration implies effort and willpower. But willpower is very weak. Within seconds your mind wanders off….why? Because your poor mind gets tired and bored!
So what’s the alternative approach?
Just sit down and be. Rather than being the controller of your mind, be an observer of your mind. Watch how your mind gets all caught up and then set free again...like the waves in the ocean. Sometimes your mind may take you off for 10 or 15 minutes on a series of thoughts, and sometimes just for a few moments. Either way, it’s your chance to observe and learn how YOUR mind works - don’t worry about comparing yourself to others.
One forum responder put it beautifully:
“Starting out trying to concentrate is like trying to stop an avalanche with an umbrella. Better to step aside, let it go by and observe the still terrain after it has passed by.”
The writer was implying thoughts to be the avalanche and you to be the one choosing to try and stop the thoughts like an umbrella. Not a good plan!
So the idea is to be kind to your mind rather than the controller of your mind. When you give your mind the freedom to think whatever it wishes to think and stay as a witness of your thoughts, they gradually slow down because you stop interfering with your mind.
Right now I’m watching some beautiful clouds in the sky. I’m not blaming myself for any dark clouds. I’m not praising myself for any lovely white fluffy clouds. I’m just watching the clouds as they pass through the sky. Sometimes I get caught up and interested in the shape of a cloud. And sometimes I take more of a step back and notice the sky as a whole. And when I bring a kind, friendly attitude to sky, the experience is even more pleasurable. The awareness grows from not just intellectualising from my mind, but more from my heart.
It’s the same with your mind. The sky is your mind and the clouds are your thoughts. Sometimes you get caught up in the clouds and sometimes you step back and see the sky as a whole. What really matters is your attitude. Whenever you remember, bring a curious, kindly awareness to your mind and the thoughts that arise within them. You can’t really control what clouds come along, but you do have a bit of control with your attitude. Play with your attitude as and when you can.
Curiosity is the way.
Friendliness is the way.
Stillness is the way.
If you’d like to learn more about my approach of combining mindfulness with kindness, consider my free 7 day course. Or my full 8 week program which is currently on sale - includes 60 mini daily videos and over 15 guided kindfulness audio meditations to try.
20 guided Kindful Meditations,
50 High- Definition Videos
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