Often when I talk with people about meditation or yoga practice or some other type of spiritual practice, they say things like "Oh I tried that but I couldn't clear my mind like they wanted me to" or "yah I just didn't have the patience; my mind was like 'what am I doing this for?' or 'what's the point of this?"
When I began meditation, I spent years trying to do this very thing; trying to make my mind 'clear' so I could get into some special 'spiritual' place or other. Eventually, I realized this was quite backwards really. By this I mean you don't have to 'clear your, mind' at all to do these types of spiritual practices! Not at all. Rather, these types of practices RESULT in a clearer, less obstructed mind.
So saying you couldn't do meditation because you weren't able to 'clear your mind' like the instructor said or were too bothered by thoughts for it to 'work' is a bit like saying you couldn't take up jogging because you weren't able to run 10 miles with a running group or you couldn't start lifting weights because you couldn't bench press 250 pounds!
Perhaps the best explanation of the essence of meditation and spiritual practice I've come across is also the simplest. It is Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki's comparison of the human mind with its ceaseless thinking to a glass of water with sand floating in it making it cloudy. Master Suzuki says if you try to take a stick and push all the sand to the bottom of the glass to 'make the water clear,' all you will succeed in doing is stirring up more sand. The water gets cloudier; not clearer! So what do you do? Just leave the glass of cloudy water on the table for an hour, come back and presto! All the sand is at the bottom of the glass and the water is clear.
Humans want to DO something; to GET somewhere. We want to push the sand to the bottom and make the water clear, but it seems any action we take to do so just ends up making things cloudier. Meditation and all spiritual practice is like that. There is nothing you need to 'do' and no special 'spiritual' state of mind you need to try hard to achieve.
On the very deepest level this means there is actually no such thing as 'meditation' or 'spiritual practice' since there is nothing really at all to do! Or if you like, everything is meditation and spiritual practice. Our job is just to recognize this; to become aware of it. Indeed, a line from a well-known Buddhist scripture tells us this very thing; 'No attainment with nothing to attain,' reads the Heart Sutra. Or if you prefer, 'Be still and know that I am God," reads a line from another famous book.
In other words; you can allow for or be the space for things to happen, but you cannot try to make things happen; or the opposite of what you would like to happen will happen! The water was clear until the sand got stirred up in the glass and will be clear once again after being left alone for a time. Humans just choose to name our particular methods for 'allowing things to happen' or 'leaving the glass alone,' meditation or spiritual practice. Yoga, Tai Chi, Zen, prayer and other 'spiritual practices' therefore are just some different names for various ways of 'leaving the glass alone;' for cultivating the clarity that is awareness.
So don't worry about being 'spiritual' or 'clearing' your mind! Just follow Master Suzuki's simple advice; leave the glass on the table and come back in ten minutes. Or a half hour. Or an hour. The glass of water may not be crystal clear; not yet. But gradually, after some span of regular practice, it will be less and less cloudy.
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