In the beginning stages of meditation, it often seems like the mind is completely out of control. This is commonly referred to as “monkey mind.” In fact, it may seem like mental chatter gets worse during meditation. While there may be some truth in that, due to the nature of mind, mainly what’s happening is that we are turning up the volume, so to speak, on all the garbage that our minds are churning out at us on a regular basis. We are focusing in on it, noticing stories and recurring themes.
Sometimes those who are new to meditation feel very discouraged because they have difficulty maintaining focus for for than a few minutes. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit for short, manageable periods of time. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition in which I teach and practice, meditations are done for as little as three minutes. Even three minutes is long enough to begin to experience the benefits! You can build to longer times as you develop an increased ability to focus. The important thing is consistency and building a daily practice: meditation is a process.
It’s important to realize that you don’t need to stop your mind in order to meditate. The process of surrendering to whatever arises, moment by moment, in meditation, is what creates a set of circumstances in which the mind can be at rest. Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, said, “It is not meditation that stops the mind. It is the surrender of the mind to the soul, and the soul to Truth. It is when you prefer the word of Truth to the word of your own intellect.”
It’s common to notice a lot of so-called negative thoughts and emotions: anger, selfishness, jealousy, fear, self-righteousness, and the like. Meditation prompts us to ask the question, “Who am I?” Am I my thoughts? Am I my beliefs? My experiences? Am I my emotions? Swami Bodhananda, of the Vedic tradition, says, we are “sat chit ananda,” pure bliss, and that meditation can help us connect with an awareness of that which we truly are. In other words, the rest is just a distraction.
One of the most important benefits of meditation is that it clears garbage from the subconscious mind. By garbage I mean the chatter or “commotion” that goes on at a level we are not consciously aware of, the stories and false beliefs that have an impact on the way we behave in the world. Meditation is like a shower for the subconscious.
Meditation also gives the practitioner an opportunity to develop mental clarity and inner peace which facilitates the dissolution of habitual ways of being which may no longer serve the highest good. As we develop a greater ability to observe ourselves in our practice and our daily lives, we may notice these small changes. For example, one way in which the change may enter our awareness is by creating a gap between a situation that we find challenging and our urge to react to it out of our habitual programming. Meditation can, over time, give us the tools to respond differently to the challenges we face.