Understanding the settled mind
Today's misconception that we are going to bust is the idea that a settled mind requires great effort, and battling with the thoughts. Or, that having a settled mind means having a quiet mind. The good news is we neither have to battle our thoughts, nor do we have to hope the mind falls completely silent in order to become settled.
What is a settled mind?
According to our definition for meditation, we are engaged in the experience of cultivating present moment awareness and, when possible, quieting the mind. So let's talk about present moment awareness.
To be in the present moment means to be in the here and now. In other words, we can't obsess about the past or worry about the future and be in the present moment. Therefore, present moment awareness is being completely engaged in whatever activity we're doing in the moment. In this case it's meditation.
In order to cultivate this state of present moment awareness, we want to practice letting go of control of our thinking mind. That means we ideally want to refrain from concentration, contemplation, analyzation, evaluation, and focus. Instead, we want to be in the flow of whatever's happening in the moment, without over-thinking about the fact that we're thinking. It's a lot like doing the backpack-kid dance. If you try to over-think it you can't do it. Instead you have to find the flow and lose yourself in the movement:
This is essentially the practice of meditation, because it sets the conditions for a settled mind. To be more specific, here are common symptoms that your mind is indeed settling beyond your surface awareness:
- You're having seemingly unrelated thoughts
- You feel as though you're gathering your thoughts
- You may feel like you're falling asleep
- You sense that time is speeding up or slowing down
The other good news is you don't have to do anything extra for your mind to settle. In fact, the less you do in meditation, the better it works. The motto of this approach to meditation is to err on the side of doing less to accomplish more. Just when you want to manage your thoughts by envisioning the white light, or pushing out negative thoughts, remember to do less, do least, do nothing. Instead, allow your mind to do whatever it's doing. This is the key to initiating a settling effect. And I admit, it's easier said than done. But over time, you'll get used to doing nothing, and that's when your practice will grow to a new level of simplicity.
Scale back on the doing to increase the settling
In popular culture, the poster boy for laziness is Homer Simpson. He's notoriously lazy in nearly everything he does. In meditation, we want to adopt the Homer Simpson work ethic when it comes to trying to control the mind. Do less to accomplish more. In other words, be mentally lazy. Have very little expectations. Heck, fall asleep if you want. It really doesn't matter. This is your attitude. Whatever happens is fine by you.
- Sit comfortably
- Set a soft alarm for 10 minutes
- Embrace your thoughts
- Let go of any need to control your experience
- When the alarm goes off, you're done.
A freely-thinking mind is a settled mind. It's not more focus that we need in order to initiate the settling effect, it's less focus. Tomorrow, we'll introduce the secret ingredient for refining the settling effect. But first, you need to practice letting go of control. So don't skip your homework meditation.
Post an image that represents how you've been feeling after three straight days of meditation, and make sure to tag #meditationkickstart so the beginmeditating community can encourage you as well.
Sample accountability post