When you spend time on personal development forums, talking with curious people or hanging out with open-minded folk, the topic eventually turns to meditation. And this conversation splits itself into two main camps: those who swear by it; and those who tried it and it didn’t work.
In these communities, the people who haven’t tried it are a minority. That’s cool, though I’m not talking about them today. I’m focusing on those who gave it an honest, solid try and walked away frustrated.
Now, I need to make clear that what I’m about to say is my opinion. It may well be wrong, though I’m confident in it. I base this off my own experiences with meditation and the psychology of the unconscious mind:
My belief is that well over 99% of people can learn to meditate. And most of those who “can’t” meditate, even after giving it some time, seem to fall into three categories.
Meditation does many things for your mind and body. If you only use it to relax, that’s great – it’s an ideal tool for that. Just know that it’s like swatting a bug with a suitcase.
It can do so much more. Your unconscious is the source of your emotions. Not just obvious ones like happiness or anger, but complex ones like motivation and concern.
If your emotions are imbalanced or doing strange things, you have options. One option is to find the cause deep in your mind and address it.
People use meditation because it quietens the conscious mind while giving you useful tools, like patience and acceptance. In this state of inner tranquillity, you can expose and resolve patterns in your own thinking.
But there are people who are in this state all the time. By some quirk of psychology, their conscious mind is always quiet. Their inner dialogue is a whisper, or completely absent.
Does that make these people enlightened?
Maybe, maybe not. But if you think this describes you, then my advice is this:
Practice being patient with yourself. Learn to accept your thoughts. If you judge your thinking, then your mind will keep things from you.
A close friend will stop talking to you if you judge everything they say. Treat your mind as you would a good friend.
Then, meditation becomes easy for you. Simply think about whatever you want to work on. You can skip the techniques around focusing and breathing – those get you to a state you’re already in.
Some people meditate but can’t let go, keep their focus or stay on task. They then decide that they tried meditation and it isn’t for them.
For some of these people, you dig a little deeper. You ask about their hobbies and it turns out that they like hiking, painting, swimming, movies…
Maybe their favourite thing is playing with their children. Perhaps they love their jobs.
If you have activities that you love, then you can use these to meditate. If you often lose yourself in the activity – if it leaves you feeling recharged or at peace – then I have good news. That’s the state of meditation.
You might think it strange that something like tennis can be meditative. After all, tennis is about speed, sweat and excursion. But how many tennis players experience time slowing down and the world going quiet, even as they move to intercept a 200 km/hr tennis ball…
Meditation isn’t a special class of thinking that only happens in monasteries. You experience it all the time in your life. It’s about harnessing, expanding and appreciating something that you already do.
The next time you meditate, keep that experience in the back of your mind. Anything that brings you closer to that state is good. If you move further away from it, go back to what you were doing before.
Then there are people who find it harder to access their unconscious mind. Their emotions are dulled, their imagination is grounded and the above descriptions about playing tennis made no sense to them.
There’s no judgement here. If you think I’m describing psychopaths, I’m not. Some people live highly intellectual lives. There are thousands of rewarding careers that need people like this – people able to rationally think through a problem without getting distracted.
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing satisfaction instead of happiness.
If you find meditation difficult because you’re too conscious, this might be you. When someone tells you to close your eyes and go inside, you don’t know what that means. It’s an unclear instruction and, boy, that must be irritating.
You can learn to meditate anyway. The question you might ask is whether you should.
The general rule is that exploring your unconscious mind enriches your life. It adds unconscious material to your conscious awareness, which opens up what you can do. It gives you more options without detracting from anything you have.
Having said that, what you find might surprise you. Most people have a lifetime of experience dealing with strange unconscious materials. Things like random emotions, strange memories and unusual thoughts flicker through our minds all day. If you’re not used to it, it can be unsettling.
My advice would be to find a meditation coach. Not just any coach, though. You’ll want someone who understands where you are coming from.
Ideally, they’ll have gone through the exact process too. They’ll know how to guide you to the next step and how to handle anything that comes up.
Working with them might be the greatest decision you ever make.
I suppose there’s a fourth category: people who find meditation boring. It’s supposed to be boring, as remaining still while your brain craves novelty punches through the veils in your mind.
But still. It’s boring.
If you want a fun way to engage your unconscious and explore your mental landscape, look into self-hypnosis. Once you get good at it, it can give video games a run for their money.
And you can get good here: