When we meditate, we should be looking for an absorbed, balanced, happy and concentrated state of mind. You may already have experienced this state of mind in meditation, even if only for a few moments at a time.
You may also have experienced such a state of mind outside of meditation, when you have been thoroughly absorbed, for example, in walking in a forest, reading a good book, or listening to certain types of music. Those engaged in creative activities such as painting, or carpentry, or gardening, can also find themselves in such a state of mind. Even in everyday activities such as washing the dishes after a meal it is possible to become thoroughly absorbed and concentrated.
By practising meditation regularly we are trying to extend the periods during which we experience such positive states of mind into our daily lives. People who take up a regular meditation practice often say that after a few months they notice a general freeing up of energy. They enjoy a greater sense of calm and clarity, and feel inwardly refreshed. They are more open-hearted and creative. Other people, also, will notice that you are changing.
Positive Elements in Meditation
When we are trying to achieve an absorbed, balanced, happy and concentrated state of mind, it is helpful to appreciate that elements of this state are often already there in our mind. Meditation is like flying a glider. We need to skilfully identify and ride the warm air currents. We need to be ready to ride our positive mental states as they arise.
One example is pleasure and enjoyment. If we notice that we are experiencing in our mind a pleasant state of peacefulness and contentment — even if it is very slight — this feeling is to be encouraged. We can simply experience and enjoy this feeling as we continue to concentrate on the object of our meditation. We channel the pleasure and enjoyment into our practice, instead of letting it distract us.
Or we might feel physically pleasurable sensations in our body, such as a releasing of energy in our spine, as we relax into the meditation. Again, we can encourage such feelings and include them as part of our concentration.
Even if we do not experience pleasure and enjoyment, we may be aware of a real desire to meditate, of a wish to grow and develop — a quiet, patient determination to let go of distractions and to meditate. This kind of motivation can be very moving, and, if encouraged, it can help deepen our concentration. Getting to know these allies of meditation, to ride upon their positive influence, may help to prevent us being taken over by what we call distractions in meditation.
Paying attention to just one thing, as we do in meditation, is not always easy. Our mind appears to have a ‘mind’ of its own, and doesn’t always do what we want it to do.
It’s important to emphasise that in meditation we are not trying to suppress anything. Unless we are very absorbed and concentrated, thoughts will arise, sounds will be heard, emotions will make themselves felt, sensations will spring up in the body, and we will be conscious of these things happening. Staying with the main focus on our breathing we can also be aware of these other aspects of our inner and outer experience.
If something keeps pulling us away from focusing our attention on the breath, once we realise that our mind has wandered, we can make a conscious decision to bring our awareness to focus on whatever it is that keeps distracting us. By focusing our awareness on the distraction we can make it part of the meditation; we can begin to see what is really going on in our body or in our mind, and learn from this experience.
Sometimes bringing our awareness to bear on a distraction, be it a mood, a feeling of pain in the body, or a sound, may be enough to change the nature of what we are experiencing.
After exploring the nature of the distraction, we can then return our attention to the breath.
What Is A Good Meditation?
Sometimes when we spend much of our time working with distractions, we can think of this as a “bad” meditation. Because we have not been concentrated, we can think of the meditation as wasted effort. This is wrong. No effort is wasted in meditation. Even if we do not succeed in becoming concentrated, each time we become aware we are distracted, and each time we identify and examine a distraction, we are learning about our own mind. We are training the mind. Eventually the efforts we are making will bear fruit in our meditation and in our everyday lives.