Beginners to meditation are often advised to ease into the practice by picking one thing to focus on while they are finding their meditative state. Often, they are told to count their breaths or their heartbeats. Something that is always there, no matter where you choose to meditate, or in what environment. Something that is universal to everyone and easy to recognise.
That advice is designed to give you something to concentrate on while your mind is so used to wandering as widely as it wishes.
Often, people then panic if they struggle to focus on their breathing or their heartbeat, especially when they’re starting out. They get upset that their mind wants to wander, even though up until now it has had free reign to go wherever it likes whenever it wants.
But worrying about a wandering mind is far from the point of meditation.
You haven’t failed because your mind wanders. That’s what minds do. Without that ability to drift between thoughts, we wouldn’t have the creativity, the imagination and the innovation to develop so complex a society as we, as human beings, collectively have.
Meditation is not supposed to stop that. Instead, it’s supposed to train you to notice when that is happening.
Panicking that you’ve stopped focusing on your breathing is as much as a distraction from your meditation as anything else your mind might latch onto. It breaks through your meditative state and agitates you.
Instead of upsetting yourself over it, retain your attitude of mindfulness. Be aware of the moment. Acknowledge that your mind as drifted from your chosen task as soon as you become aware of it. Follow it, see where it goes.
Think about why it’s heading in that direction. Is it just that its curiosity has been piqued by something? Is it creating something silly because it’s bored? Is it grappling with something more urgent that you aren’t sure you’re prepared to handle directly?
Maybe there is something your mind needs to deal with that your conscious self has been putting off. Maybe you have to let it take you there.
As you continue to meditate, be aware of when your mind wanders and why. Practice identifying the different paths your mind takes. As you become more in tune with your mind’s movement, you’ll be able to notice sooner and sooner the point at which it diverts from your primary point of focus.
Training yourself in that skill is hugely valuable. Fine tuning your ability to notice the moment you become distracted – instead of a few hours later when you realise you’ve wasted most of your day not doing what you meant to – will eventually leave you able to pick up on it in any situation, not only when you’re meditating.
When that carries through into your work – or your hobbies, or your relationships – you’ll find yourself better able to engage with those things that are truly valuable to your life.
So don’t worry if your mind wanders. It’s normal. It’s not unhealthy. It’s part of the process.
Just be aware of it. Be conscious of what it means. Try to learn from it.
More than anything, accept it.
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