Empty Mind or Open Mind?

The point of meditation is not to perfect yourself but to improve your capacity to love.”
– Jack Kornfield

Familiarity leads to wisdom.” -Buddha

The best way out is always through.” -Robert Frost

This is the first in a series called “Meditations on Meditation.” They are intended to help beginning and experienced meditators consider their intentions and motivations as they walk a mindful path.

When I began to meditate, I thought of it as a new tool to help me figure things out, to fix or eliminate whatever was bothering me. I had all of these questions, “Why am I feeling so frustrated?”, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”, “Am I past my prime?” I figured that as I became more focused, I would answer these questions and move on. I would literally meditate my worries away. But that’s not what happened. Thankfully, by sticking with it, I learned that this practice is not yet another self-improvement project but a way of living and thinking. The questions didn’t get answered but I was able to reflect on them without needing to figure them out.

Allison_Sharpe_powertool-2
This common graphic can easily be misunderstood as suggesting mindfulness is about blocking out everything that isn’t happening right in front of your eyes. As it turns out, our thoughts ARE in the present moment. Sure, we might ruminate on regrets of the past or opportunities in the future. That’s okay! What is most important is how we relate to them.

Should I “empty” my mind or be with what is?

Many beginning meditators come to Center For Self-Care feeling overwhelmed or at their wits’ end. Others have a basic familiarity and want to learn more. Either way, there are some common pitfalls that can make the benefits of meditation elusive. It is worth considering what the “point” of meditation is. In the early days, I’ll hear complaints like “I can’t stop thinking,” “This is just making me more frustrated,” or “I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.” If you are thinking these thoughts, you are probably doing it right!

9532e2b906530d839aad60b465ab7ae3For me, the point of meditation is not to empty one’s mind or reach enlightenment, or even become more focused and productive. It’s about feeling what we are feeling while we are feeling it. It’s about being aware of what’s happening in this moment and relating to it with kindness. Ultimately, this allows us to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting habitually to whatever arises. The good news: relaxation, stillness, clarity and happiness are wonderful byproducts of intentional and consistent practice

Below, I’ve listed some of the motivations our clients have shared as they come to meditation. Take a look at the right column to consider a different way to approach these questions. Allow yourself to rest in these questions without needing to answer them or get them right.

If you’re hoping for this . . . . . . try this out instead
I want to feel relaxed

I want to empty my mind

I want to figure it out

I want to get it right

I want to be happy

Can I pay curious attention?

Can I let thoughts come? 

Can I become intimate and familiar?

Can I just put my body there? 

Can I cultivate resilience?

This work takes practice. Consider three components of a vibrant mindfulness practice,

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