When our mind is silent, we see things as they really are. When are mind is clouded by thought, we distort how things are. Anything we do with a distracted mind will lack power. This is why I always recommend my students meditate for short periods of time to start off with. Ten or fifteen minutes.
The aim of meditation in the beginning is to focus our mind and bring our attention to the present moment. Our minds are saturated all day by information and thoughts and busyness so it's unrealistic to believe that we can stop the chatter immediately.
If I'm very anxious or stressed, I don't find sitting useful. I go for a run or do some Kung Fu or Qigong training. Focusing on my breath and movement together, my mind begins to slow down and becomes silent of its own accord.
In our day to day life, we tend to push for things. There's a desire to improve ourselves or see results. But meditation needs to be an unconditional space where we have pure acceptance no matter what thoughts arise.
The founder of Zen, Damo, recommended we do Qigong before our sitting meditation. Shaolin Monks took this further and for many, the movements of Qigong and Kung Fu is their meditation. There is no right or wrong. They are all tools to help us get to that place of stillness. Sitting Qigong is a great way to still the mind. But if you've been sitting all day, what you may need is movement. We're animals. We're born to move.
The important point is not to force. If we're anxious, we don't get lost in the anxiety. We can ask ourselves, what am I anxious about? what can I do about it? And then do it. If there's nothing we can do about it then what is the point of being anxious? It's just a pattern that our mind has fallen into. Of course, I realise, it's not as easy as that. But this is what Shantideva, the great Indian master said. And I think it's good advice.
It's important to give ourselves space. A space away from planning and doing and being. A space away from the roles that we have assigned ourselves. Being a parent, a business person, a worker. We are much more than these people. And we are much more than our anxiety.
Look at yourself and prescribe the correct tool so you can enter tranquillity. It may be different things on different days. Do I need a challenging kung fu workout? Or some qigong? Or do I need to go outside for a walk or a run? You'll find it's easier to sit after you've done some physical exercise. Because your mind has already started to let go of the day.
I have a Buddhist statue in my home and I use jade as a reminder for me to stay focused. This inspires me. Use what inspires you. It may be a postcard or a quote. Make sure you have it where you can see it.
Keep it simple. Relaxed and alert. Not sleepy! Sleepy is not awake. We don't want to enter mental dullness. Keep your mind alert and light and spacious. Allow yourself to be.