Dear Donagh,
…. I want to get some help with my struggle with meditation.  I've read a lot of books about it and they are all great until I sit down to do it.  Then my mind takes off and all the things I read about are miles away.  Even when I pick up the book I've been reading and read a paragraph that I marked, it doesn’t make it happen for me.  I'm better at reading about it than doing it.  I often say if there was someone inside my head to direct the traffic I'd be OK.  I know you can't do that, but you may be able to give me a few tips.  [....] Larry M.


Dear Larry,

That's an interesting thought: an inner traffic cop who would tell you where to park and where not to park.  Some people would tell you that you have to be that traffic cop yourself, but I'd rather say you should give up the idea of directing that inner traffic.  Thoughts move: it is their nature to move; when they stop they don’t exist.  When you get involved with them – whether to follow them or to stop them – you are keeping them in existence.  Instead, just watch them without judging them or telling them where to go or trying to stop them.  Watch from the side, as if they had nothing to do with you.  In a real sense they don’t: they are just the world’s debris blowing through you. 

People sometimes say “I'm ‘into’ this or that,” but they mean they have an interest in it.  An interest in meditation isn’t enough; you have to be into it in a full sense.  Nothing will take you anywhere unless you are inside it.  To the extent that you are trying to direct your mental traffic you are not yet inside meditation. 

When are you ‘inside’ meditation?  I suggested above that you should “watch from the side.”  That watching from the side is meditation.  Which side is it?  Left?  Right?  No, it’s every side: it’s the whole background to all traffic.   If it were one particular side you would be scrambling to get there.  But you are there already: that whole background is your true nature. 

How we would all love to grab it and hold onto it!  My true nature: a prize catch.  But the very effort to do so would turn it into an object – in other words, another piece of traffic.  If it could be caught it would be another foreground object – a big one, but still just an object.  There is nothing that can be caught, so give up all attempts to catch it.  The real background, your true nature, is yours already before you thought of trying to catch it.  It was yours even before you developed an interest in meditation.  

That leaves you with nothing to do.  But people speak of ‘doing their meditation’, don’t they?  Yes, but that is an external description, like entering an item on a timetable.  It’s true that we have to put it on a timetable; we have to have a daily routine of meditation.  But when you sit down to meditate you are not doing anything; you are just watching.  At that point the traffic will try to pull you again into its stream.  It will urge you to pick up a book, or to check how you are doing, or even to check the time…. But relax, don’t do anything. 

That sounds really easy, but as you know it is not easy.  There are two kinds of laziness: one is a reluctance to do anything, the other is a reluctance to do nothing.  Doing nothing is harder for us today: we live in a fog of activism, a fog so dense that we can't easily see through it or around it.  We are over-stimulated and to that extent we are unwell.  We need to recover, to convalesce.  If you have ever had to convalesce after an illness, you have a useful marker.  The doctor – and everyone else – will tell you, “You just need to rest.”  Meditation is like that: just rest, don’t be restless to get going. 

You will notice that there is nothing here for the ego: no sense of achievement, no sense of making progress, no sense of acquiring something you set out to acquire.  If you feel the pinch of that, it is a good sign: you could be on the right track.  


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