After teaching meditation to thousands of people, when I ask what sorts of problems they encounter with their practice, I hear the same three answers again and again.

The problem I hear the most frequently is that people can't quiet their minds. They refer to having "monkey mind," or tell me, "I can't stop thinking." Sometimes they say they have "negative self-talk," or other unhappy thoughts they can't get rid of.

The second complaint on the list is not having enough time. It might be their job that keeps them busy, or their family, or all the other things they think they have to do to improve themselves - like doing yoga or learning Swahili. Whatever the issue, they can’t find the twenty or thirty or sixty minutes a day (or whatever their teacher recommended) for meditation.

The third issue people struggle with is that whatever benefits they might get from meditation don’t seem to carry over into the rest of their lives. Even if they do feel calm and peaceful while practicing, as soon as someone cuts them off in traffic, their equanimity evaporates and they find themselves shouting distinctly unspiritual things at other drivers.

People also tell me that they aren't sure which meditation practice would be best or how to get started. They’ve heard from different meditation teachers who give conflicting instructions. One may tell them to keep the eyes open for meditation, while another says closing the eyes is best. Some teachers say to hold your hands in one way, while other teachers say to hold your hands some other way. Focusing only on your out-breath is recommended by some teachers, while others instruct watching the breath going both in and out. This can cause a lot of confusion.

Having meditated for thirty years, I've noticed that most of these aren't actually problems with meditation. With an understanding of the larger picture of meditation practice, these problems may still arise, but the solutions become obvious.

One of the things I’ve learned during my own explorations is that there are basically two different kinds of meditation practice. The problems we've been discussing are associated with one particular kind, which is the kind of meditation that most people know about. I call this sort of meditation the "Path of Purification," and it focuses on practices designed to develop concentration. Following the Path of Purification means you are trying to change or improve yourself, to make something better. You're generally practicing concentration to alter or affect the way your mind works naturally. The job of the mind is to think. That’s what minds do. But attempts to force the mind to work differently – based in the idea that doing so will make your life better - often leads to the sorts of problems we have been talking about.

I like to refer to the other type of meditation as the "Path of Recognition." Literally, re-cognition. It’s about reconsidering things and seeing them in a new light. The kinds of problems we’ve been discussing aren’t an issue on this path. When doing practices from the Path of Recognition, having thoughts isn’t an obstacle. On the contrary, having thoughts can actually be useful in your practice. Making them go away is not one of the goals. Oddly, when you understand and experience that perspective, it’s very possible that your distracting thoughts will leave on their own, or at least, no longer bother you. They become like noise in the background, things that don’t demand your notice or attention.

Path of Purification techniques also require both effort and time. It can take anywhere from twenty minutes to a full hour just to get to a place where your mind can relax or slow down for a few moments. But time is not a requirement for practices on the Path of Recognition. It’s as if time is compressed when you learn to shift your attention to the "place" in you that is already relaxed or clear now. Similarly, if I say, "focus on your feet," you suddenly become aware of the sensations in your feet you hadn’t noticed before. The Path of Recognition techniques just show you how to notice within yourself the places that have always been and always are open, spacious, and relaxed.

That's why there is no need to take an hour to notice sensations that are always available once you've learned where to look.

It’s similar for the question of how to work the peace of meditation into daily life. When we follow the Path of Purification, it's like we’re seeking a peak experience that we can then try to drag home and somehow fit into our lives. It can be very hard to do that. We think that living a meditative life means we have to slow down to an unnatural pace, do just one thing at a time, or make some other drastic change to our behavior. But just like New Year's resolutions, these types of radical changes can be really hard to maintain.

Meditation techniques that follow the Path of Recognition, on the other hand, can be done almost any time or place you think of them. So it’s not about trying to integrate something into an already full life, but rather noticing that your life already contains the clarity and peace you’re looking for without you having to change in any way.

(By the way, the methods in the Instant Advanced Meditation Course are from the Path of Recognition.)

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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