I recently asked my students, what would you like to learn about Zen meditation. And most people replied: I want to know how to stop thinking. I’m not sure if my students want to learn how to stop thinking because they think that’s what meditation is or because they don’t like what they’re thinking about.
If the aim of meditation is to stop thinking, it’s no surprise that so many people find meditation hard. Our body breathes by itself. We influence our breath through our martial art’s practice. We can change the quality and length of our breathing but we can’t stop breathing.
It’s the same with our mind. Our mind is as wired as our body is to survive. It has to keep us safe. It plans, judges, thinks. The natural instinct of the mind is to avoid pain and seek pleasure. But a life lived on satisfying every desire does not make us happy. And a life avoiding pain makes us fearful rather than fearless.
When we meditate, we don’t stop thinking. We stop reacting to our thinking and taking it so personally. When our mind says: I want chocolate cream. We don’t get up and eat chocolate ice cream. We listen, we observe, we come back to our breath or whatever we’re using as our meditation focus. Keep coming back and coming back. This is the first stage of meditation.
We all want happiness. But if happiness is North, most of us spend our whole life chasing South. We tend to believe that if only we can have: this job, income, wife, husband, pair of Nike shoes then we can be happy. This is the trick our mind plays on us but it's simply not true. True happiness is internal. It comes from our mind, not from external things. It comes from not reacting to every thought and feeling we have.
It’s good to meditate after our martial art’s practice. Because our martial arts takes the focus off our mind and onto our breath and body. This helps our thoughts to slow down so we're not sitting with a torrent of thoughts.
The more we meditate, the less reactive we become. Through this simple shift in our relationship to our mind, we gain true freedom and happiness.