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Meditation Does Not Calm the Mind

This article is going to take on an unfixed narrative style. Consider this article a form of an open diary or free-form expression of random bursts of post-meditative thoughts and inquiries about my own psyche. I am sure you can relate in some capacity. What I am unraveling in this article is of a yarn we are all tangled in, to some degree or another.

Here goes…

As I began my meditation this morning, I gave myself this simple task:

“Instead of presupposing the conclusion to what is causing my stress, I’d like to look inward in a more receptive way.”

After five minutes of focusing on my breathing, I endured several emotionally heavy thoughts and observations as they pertained to the intention above. They included:

  • I have this annoying, persistent spiraling in my head coupled with a pooling like hot lava in my chest.
  • I am meditating, but to what end? I’m sitting with my legs crossed, my back comfortably prostrated, my eyes closed, focusing on my breath, but to what end?
  • This meditation doesn’t seem to impact my current psychological state in any meaningful way. I have done this before, and although I’ve gained some residual reprieve from the daily toils of life after every meditation, these effects are not long-lasting and I find myself returning to my default anxious state for the most part.

After some time of torturing myself with these musings, I came to some small revelation that changed my attitude toward this activity. A flip was switched but the mind was still overrun by swirling disruptive thoughts and faint melodies playing on repeat. The intrusive melodies were much like those rare but jarring instances when you’re listening to a song on your computer and the entire system freezes but the song is still playing, although stuck in this devilishly annoying 2-second long loop.

This is what I came to understand:

Meditation facilitates awareness, not peace of mind. To expect the former as a result is folly.

Meditation is not meant to be a cure for anxiety. It is no panacea in the fight against stress. Rather, to meditate is a virtue in its own right. It is something done for its own sake. To meditate under the common misperception that the act of meditation performed over time will grant you happiness, is silly at best and destructive to those seeking authentic solutions to combating their anxiety, at worst.

To believe such a fantasy is no different from staring at an apple and expecting the nutrients of the fruit to flow into your digestive tract and into your bloodstream, just by willing it so. You cannot use the fuel promised by this apple to go about your day simply by imagining yourself eating it. You have to physically EAT THE APPLE.

In the same vein, magical thinking is not going to make you a calmer person. It might provide you with a temporary sense of calm, but your body and subconscious mind know where the heart of your traumas lie, and these cannot be covered by LIES in any healthy fashion. You may lie to yourself about what is and isn’t true until you are blue in the face, but until you become brutally honest with yourself about the source of your pain and fear, that profound sense of dread will seep its way back into your life. You can count on that.

Meditation Does Not Calm the Mind

That’s right. I said it. Those who use meditation to take off steam, like yoga instructors and the like, may not agree. Their entire business model may in fact be threatened by this statement, I suppose. But nothing rings truer than this.

Instead, it is a practice that plunges your mind into a vulnerable position. It’s like when you catch a child in the act of some petty thievery after having turned a blind eye to their naughty actions for so long. Your awareness of what they’re doing catches them off guard because after a while of putting up with their bad actions, they began to believe what they were doing was okay.

Meditation reveals the folly of your mind to your mind. With no distractions apparent, the mind is left with no choice but to examine its pattern of behavior. In my case, I could find these emotions, which were paired with some interesting actions:

  • Addiction all across the board — technology, thoughts, nervous habits, etc
  • Judgemental thoughts — of myself and others
  • Unfulfilled states — the need for more — more peace, more love, more stability, etc.
  • Low-level paranoia — brought upon by subconscious feelings of entitlement.

And most of all, meditation revealed to the mind how exhausted of itself it was. This was perhaps the greatest revelation. Although, in some sense, this was no revelation. Rather, it may feel this way because the mind spends so much time dawdling about in all of this nonsense that it fails to see just how simple deflating stress can really be.

Spiraling Out of Control

The mind further complicates things by seeing this flurried mental state brought upon by a myriad of internal and external controllable (and sometimes uncontrollable) affairs and circumstances as a problem that needs to be solved.

Mind you, the reason why all of these anxieties are arising is precisely that the mind is trying desperately to solve far too many problems at once, many of which don’t even exist in any meaningful sense.

So, the very act of attempting to tackle this mental error by solving it is itself an aggravator of the condition it wishes so desperately to fix. This is both terrifying and hilarious!

Let’s assume for a moment that you believe you procrastinate too much. You want to be more productive. In order to be productive, you must in some way be able to adequately solve a string of problems in both a timely and efficient manner. Also, the solutions to these problems must be meaningful ones that result in your achieving some degree of fulfillment.

When the mind, in its healthy and authentically productive state, seeks to solve problems, it does so with the intention and aptitude to alter with calculated actions a mindset, from being in a state of supposed impermeable bleakness to a state of accomplishment, receptivity, and confidence as it pertains to future endeavors concerning this very specific and targeted problem-solution paradigm.

There are patterns, but every problem within a particular area of expertise must be dealt with with a kind of humble curiosity and receptivity to change, where you realize your expectations will not always be met regardless of how proficient you become at solving that problem and other problems like it.

This is where the mind struggles. This is especially true when it begins to achieve some degree of success. It is in this realm that the mind overworks itself and begins moving faster than it should. The illusory promise of achievement can be so alluring that the desired goal can lead to the purging of one’s punitive compulsion to progress at all costs.

The song of moving up in the world has a kind of heavenly ring to it, whereas regressing backward intuits a sense of falling or losing control. Comparatively, the feeling of wading in the present reality of one’s solitary accomplished goal elicits its own complex form of terror in the career-driven individual.

“I’m doing well, but not well enough to be happy.”

This commonly used internal dialogue seems to be a detrimental side effect of the constant anxiety-ridden feedback spiral mentioned above. It is, quite ironically, adversely affecting our ability to be the high achievers we so desperately seek to be and to be seen as.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

All of this having been said, I do believe there is something to be gained from coming to these realizations. Things are not as bleak as they seem.

The solution to all of this isn’t a solution at all. Or rather, the solution isn’t an action. It’s a realization.

The solution isn’t an action. It’s a realization.

As the old adage goes, the first step to getting out of your head is to realize you are knee-deep in it, or something like that. It’s a new take on an old adage. Bear with me here.

Here goes my resolution…

It might be painful at first, but the sooner you realize the personhood within you at this moment is toxic, repetitive, self-indulgent, entitled, scared, and in many ways childlike, the easier it will be to say NO to this supposed identity’s entitlement to their desires.

You can say no to the person in your head who fears never achieving the things they so wrongfully believe they’re entitled to. That person also feels entitled to dwelling in their own sorrow merely because the things they believe they are entitled to them are not present in their lives at that moment.

They also feel entitled to the things they do have as if somehow the things they do have will be with them forever.

Newsflash — They won’t!

You’ll lose everything someday. You’ll die and have nothing, not even your mind. Can you believe that? You won’t even have you! Whoever that is, assuming that person even exists in the first place. (The philosophy of the self can get pretty complicated. We won’t get into that in this article.)

The Great Contradiction!

So, you know that scared person who is afraid and uncertain about what is to come and dissatisfied about what has already come to pass?

Love them.

But don’t love them as if to allow them to feel entitled to their chaotic flurry of petty expectations. Love them like a parent would love a child. Let them know they neither deserve their suffering nor do they deserve their desires.

It isn’t about deserving.

It never has been. You also don’t attract/repel what you like nor do you attract/repel what you don’t like. At least not in some kind of magical thinking type of way. Instead, you happen to your internal and external environment in a way that is no meaningfully different than how your environment happens to you.

You both have and have not free will.

There are things you can perceivably control, like:

  • Goal setting
  • Doing kind things or unkind things for others
  • Controlling your behavior/impulses
  • Etc.

But, you can’t control the way the outside world reacts to the effort you put into the pursuit of your desired outcome as it pertains to each goal. You are powerless against this. This is a universal absolute, perhaps one of the only universal absolutes.

This is, I believe, the single-most terrifying truth we are faced with as we grow older and wiser. Some day we will be forced to watch everything we worked so hard for fall apart. We want to believe that what we do now will bear fruit in the future, and it might.

We want a guarantee while being fraught with this primal intuition that there is no guarantee and there never will be. We want the world outside of our control, our reach, to bend to our will.

But it never will. It will only as it wills, assuming it wills anything.