I think too much to meditate!
This is the most common reason people give for why they cannot meditate. It is true, too! We all think too much in general. The body is made stronger by exercise. The mind is made stronger by allowing it space to be still.
The Buddhist monks who practice meditation several hours per day have called the phenomenon of the mind jumping all over the place “monkey mind”. It is a great image. The mind loves to jump all over and get into everything. It is used to this energy. And we stimulate it all the time with so much input. Watching television or playing video games, driving on a busy street, having a conversation that is particularly engaging- all ways to stimulate monkey mind.
Mind loves activity. So give it a game to play.
One way to introduce the mind to stillness is through the use of a “toy” that you give the monkey in your mind. Focus on one thing and the mind will play with it. Make it a sound (commonly called a mantra) repeated in your mind or aloud and you will find that you focus there and other thoughts and emotions subside. Maybe your mantra is “I am light” or “Life is good” or “may all beings be happy”. Anything you want will work fine. You could choose an image, too. Maybe try focusing on the inner light in your heart or on an image of the moon or sun in your belly. Some people focus on the breath, saying to themselves, “inhaling… exhaling…” as they do the actions.
Chatter keeps mind whirling.
The mind is more powerful when it can choose its thoughts. The constant chatter in the mind is absolutely natural and human and it will never go away completely. But the whirling quality of thought and emotion can become less powerful when you learn to not feed it with your attention.
Like clouds across the sky…
Meditation masters recommend that you come to see your thoughts and emotions as clouds that pass across the sky of your consciousness. They are not who you are- they are just temporary weather patterns. Let them come and let them go.
What is the sky?
The backdrop to the thoughts and emotions is the endless consciousness that we all share. It is the place of inner peace and light. It is the sky that the clouds float across and make their storms or their beautiful light.
Prisoner of thought/ emotions/ moods
We humans are creatures of habit. We tend to think the same thoughts and feel the same feelings over and over again. There is good reason for this. We actually lay down circuits in our brains that are pathways for thoughts and moods. Just like a paths that take us to the grocery store or to our favorite hangout spot, the mental and emotional pathways we frequent are strengthened each time we tread them. Meditation offers a choice about which mental and emotional path to walk down by making things a little bit quieter in your mind and slowing down your thoughts just a millisecond.
Tunneling out of chaotic mind traps
In that tiny space after you think a thought and before you believe it, after you feel an emotion and identify with it as true for you in the moment, meditation offers you the choice to choose another thought, to feel another emotion. As you start making those choices consciously, you start creating the life that you want. And you lay down new paths of thought and emotion that you reinforce each time you tread them, too. Better ones.
Ways to progress- be bad at it and show up anyway.
Just like anything, meditation is a skill that takes time. Some days are going to be ideal and you will think, “I have got this now!” The next day will be just awful. It is okay. That is how it is supposed to be. Just keep it up. You will start to have more good days than bad and you will notice the quality of your mind becoming more steady and calm. You will make friends with your mind and its mercurial tendencies- without being tossed around by it quite so much.