Like thoughts, annoyances and distractions are integral part of our meditation and we should not see that as failures. They are called weeds. They bother us all the time at different degrees and intervals. Your mind hates meditation and it is fighting back by sawing its weeds. They will break your concentration, make you restless, upset you, and discourage you. Here is a very short list of mental weeds affecting all of us.
You have experienced some of them or they will since they will never disappear.
1- Surrounding sounds & noises.
2- Body weeds: Joints, back and neck pains, itching, numbness, coughing, sneezing, smelling, degutting, bladder impatience, stomach gurgling, abdominal restlessness.
3- Mental weeds: Thoughts, worries, desires, memories, what-to-do-planning, day dreaming,
4- Boredom, impatience, frustration, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness.
5- Falling asleep can be around the corner. Not so bad. It will make your sitting effort smoother and shorter but what a shame!
6- Being distracted by your neighbor, who came late, is moving, noisy, sometimes snoring.
7- Experiencing optical illusions even hallucinations thinking that you are enlightened.
8- You want to quit the group...but it will be too humiliating for your ego and you are not a quitter. Beside in few minutes you will have a great tea made by Cathie.
9- And the worse scenario: You are totally discouraged, thinking pessimistically, cynically in deep self-depreciative and denial mood: “This is the last time. I cannot take it”...” Enough of this”... “ Not for me”... “ I was wrong”, ”Too boring for me”, “ What am I getting anyway...nothing.... I am still the same, struggling with my issues!”
STOP JUDGING, STOP WORRYING, INDULGE YOURSELF & TRY TO RELAX!
Nothing disastrous or hopeless is happening. You are OK even if you cannot take it anymore. Mental weeds are like thoughts: they are part of your meditation like milk is part of butter.
Are they frequent?
Like thoughts, they happen all the time non-stop to everyone from beginners to 100 years old Zen monks.
How can I avoid them?
You cannot. Trying to meditate without them or against them is like trying to watch the moon while avoiding seeing the stars around it. Don’t fall in this terrible trap of judging these mind weeds as terrible nuisance interfering with your dedicated practice. These weeds actually are helping you to get a feeling how your mind works. If one day you are proud of your meditation because you had no thoughts and the session went very fast it is because you were in deep sleep! Take them as they come, don’t fight against. Fighting against our annoyances will make them worse. Guarantee!
What make these interferences so frequent?
Forcing your mind to focus on breathing + posture is trapping it in a cage called concentration. It hates that and fights back aggressively by firing thoughts and making you more aware and sensitive to these distractions.
The trick is not to let these weeds disturb you to the point of discouragement and quitting.
By taking them as they come you will learn to become more tolerant with yourself and then to others.
Can they negatively affect the benefits of my meditation?
NO. The number of annoyances and thoughts during meditation will have no effect on its benefits. Don’t forget this. The effects of your meditation are cumulative and have nothing to do with its quality per se that is the number of thoughts or annoyances. Having thoughts does not mean poor meditation and being thoughtless does not mean good meditation. Besides focusing on your breathing, learning to pay attention to your thoughts during meditation, which is “thought-on-thought”, is also learning to control our mind. You will find that everything will settle, just like mud settling at the bottom of the pond, leaving the water calm and clear. An effective meditation is not defined by the small number of thoughts popping all the time but by the following 3 steps: 1) focusing on your double anchor – breathing + body 2) being aware of each incoming thought one by one and 2) then, after acknowledging it, going back to your focus point whatever this focus point is.
Thoughts and feelings cannot be controlled properly unless we are first fully aware of them in a mindfully way that is contemplating them without analysis, judgment and emotion. This is how, progressively, meditation is teaching us to control our mind, its thoughts and emotions.
Finally you assess your meditation not on its quality per se but on its impacts on the quality of your day-to-day life such as how to deal with your emotional reactions, values, judgments and expectations.
Thank you. Ven. Ji Gong Sunim Nov.2015