I don’t generally write about quieting the mind because it’s one of those things that I find hinders rather than helps. It sets up a goal to reach and a comparison to make. You imagine what a quiet mind might be like and make that your goal. You compare your mind as it is to what you imagine it ought to be like and beat yourself up for not achieving your goal. At least that’s what I always did.
Yet when we read about meditation, we find all sorts of references to quieting and emptying the mind. It’s even worse in the kind of random talk you hear from people who really don’t know anything about meditation.When I googled “quiet the mind” just now I came up with all kinds of pages with titles like “The Fastest Way to a Quiet Mind,” “6 Steps to Quiet the Mind,” and “Why You Really Need to Quiet Your Mind (and How to Do It).” I didn’t look at any of them. I don’t need to. Been there, done that.
In my own practice I have found that the mind does become far less noisy with continued work. I remember a moment when I was walking home from work one day in Tokyo and I suddenly realized I wasn’t thinking. I still could think about whatever I chose to if I made the effort to do so. But unless I specifically directed my brain toward some subject, the constant stream of random chatter I’d become used to as “normal” was gone.
I saw the constant stream of chatter that had been going on in my head wasn’t something that just happened by itself. I had to actively make it happen. This had always been the case. But I’d gotten so used to making my brain blab-blab-blab at me that I’d begun to believe it just naturally did that. When I learned how to stop goosing my brain every time it got a little quiet, staying quiet wasn’t just easy, it was literally effortless.
These days that sense of total quiet comes and goes depending on how much I’ve been putting into my poor, tired brain. But in general, I’m not bothered by the random snatches of memories, old TV show theme songs, recurring emotions from times long gone and so forth the way I once was. It’s nice and I would not want to go back to how things were before.
I’m not really sure if this is the kind of quieting of the mind these websites are selling. Maybe it is. Maybe not.
But the thing is, I had to give up any idea of quieting my mind in order for this to happen. The idea “I must quiet my mind” was one of the biggest noises inside my head for a long time. I really wasted a lot of effort in attempting to use thoughts to silence thoughts. I feel like as soon as you advertise your thing as something like “6 Steps to a Quiet Mind” you’re already setting up problems.
It’s like the Serenity Now! thing on the old Seinfeld TV series. In that episode, several of the characters get into a meditation technique called “Serenity Now!” in which they demand themselves to be serene whenever things get stressful. In the end it makes them crazy.
In this moment, it’s better to see what’s really going on, rather than focus on an ill-defined future goal like a quiet mind. Just watch the effort you’re making to keep up the noise. That’s the best way to understand how to stop making it happen.
And if you do find yourself thinking, “I must quiet my mind,” don’t beat yourself up for it or feel bad. It’s just another thought. Let it be. If you stop paying attention to it, it will go away just like any other thought.
April 3, 2015 Pomona, CA Open Door 2 Yoga 6 pm 163 W 2nd St, Pomona, California 91766
April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!
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A good way to instantly quiet the mind is by making a donation to this blog. I guarantee it works! And if it doesn’t, just keep making donations until it does.