To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind – this is the teaching of the Buddha.The Buddha, Dhammapada, 14-183
Meditation has been scientifically proven to have many health benefits, like reduced anxiety and better emotional health. While this is great, I also see many people struggling with incorporating meditation in their daily routines.
Even though it takes some effort to adopt new habits, there’s one thing at play that doesn’t like meditation. At all. This is the mind. In this video, I’ll explain why the mind hates meditation.
I won’t deny that experienced meditators won’t have too much trouble meditating whenever they want, because the wise part of their thinking mind has become dominant. However, the average Joe, myself included often experiences a mind that’s overly active: eager to solve puzzles, analyze past events and calculate future possibilities, no matter if it’s past midnight.
A mind is a precious tool. But when it’s out of control, it can be a destructive monster as well. The quality of our thoughts is so important because emotions are the consequence of it. As emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius puts it:
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5-16
Negative thoughts most likely cause fear, anger or grief. Positive thoughts most likely cause laughter. It’s not uncommon that people that are in a constant state of negative thinking, end up being depressed or anxious. This makes overthinking dangerous, because sufferers may end up hurting and even killing themselves.
The ancient practice of meditation proves to be a cure for the restless mind. The Buddhists call such a mind a monkey mind because it tends to jump from branch to branch. Currently, Western health care has begun acknowledging the benefits of meditation, so we increasingly see doctors prescribing it to their patients.
The most common form of meditation is breath meditation. It’s very simple, really. You just sit down or lay down, and watch the breath. You can focus on how the breath enters your nostrils, or how it fills up the lungs and belly, and you can also focus on the moments between the in- and out-breath. The mind will do anything to divert your attention to the thoughts it produces. And when that happens, you focus your attention back on the breath. And when it happens again, you, again, bring back your attention to your breath.
The essence of this practice is that you don’t engage with your thinking mind, but just let it be, watch the thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. By focusing your attention on the breath, you anchor yourself to something that is not your thinking.
Even though the practice is so simple, it’s incredibly difficult for many overthinkers to actually do it on a regular basis. I experience that the more active my mind is, the less I want to do it. Especially in the evening after a busy day with lots of distractions, my thinking is often so amped up, that I’d rather scroll down the Facebook feed or watch pointless videos on YouTube than sitting down for twenty minutes watching my breath.
This doesn’t make sense, because checking social media and watching videos is, even more, tiring for an already tired mind, while watching the breath gives the mind a break. So, what’s the problem?
The Buddha also noticed that it’s difficult to tame the mind. I quote:
Wonderful, indeed, it is to subdue the mind, so difficult to subdue, even swift, and seizing whatever it desires. A tamed mind brings happiness.The Buddha, Dhammapada, 3-35
The Buddha, Dhammapada, chapter 3, 35.
The struggle is, that the mind that knows that meditation is good for you, is the same mind that doesn’t want to stop thinking. This part of the mind doesn’t like meditation. In fact, it hates it, simply because meditation subdues its very purpose: thinking.
Now, we can make distinctions between mental states. A mindfulness-based therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which is used to treat mood disorders, distinguishes three mental states: the reasonable mind, the emotional mind, and the wise mind.
The emotional mind is a non-logical state that is dominated by emotions and creates a very subjective view of reality.
The reasonable mind operates based on facts, and is great at planning and analyzing. Both of these states, however, can be out of control.
The wise mind is a healthy balance between the two; it’s the part that knows what’s best for you.
In a state of turmoil, the little voice that knows that the mind needs a break is coming from the wise mind.
The emotional mind, however, wants to be completely immersed in feelings, no matter if it’s anger, grief, laughter. And the reasonable mind wants to solve the future’s problems and sort out past events and it’s exhausting itself doing so.
The stronger the reasonable and emotional mind is, the harder it gets to actually listen to the wise mind’s voice.
Meditation is a method to tame the mind, even though it doesn’t want to be tamed.
hat’s why it’s so difficult to meditate on a regular basis; it’s going against the very thing that the mind enjoys doing. Luckily, there’s always a part in us that knows what’s best. The key is: listening to it.