The Paradox of Practising Meditation

If you meditate and find it to be relaxing, then that’s great, keep it up. If you think you have to meditate in order to experience emotional wellness or to stop thoughts, then please stop meditating. This practice should only be done for enjoyments sake.

When we approach meditation with the attitude of “I need to stop my thoughts” or “I’m doing this to get back to a calm state”, then what we’re actually doing is making meditation into something we have to do, something that feels like a struggle. Meditation should never be experienced in this way. The more effort we make to quieten the mind, the further away we will get from inner peace. (The irony is I feel more at peace now that I’ve stopped meditation compared to when I was actually meditating.)

Update: I’ve started to meditate again. Not because I’m doing it to “feel better.” I’ve noticed that when I meditate, I get into a creative flow state. Again, I have to be careful not to associate meditating with being creative as this will just put too much expectations on the practice then whilst I’m meditating I’ll get into that mindset of “why aren’t I feeling creative yet.”

Instead I just meditate for the fun of it and without even intending to have more creative ideas, they just come naturally and effortlessly.

If you’re finding meditation to be a chore, then there really is no point in meditating. Having this approach will not go down well because it will leave us feeling frustrated. This will only add to an already noisy mind. If you still want to meditate, changing your perspective towards meditation can help. You don’t have to get anything from meditation. You don’t have to do meditation to achieve a “quiet mind” either.

In fact, you don’t have to practice meditation at all. You can still experience the same results as you would get from a meditation practice without doing it. Having this approach will help you to feel at ease. It will also help you to realise that you are not obligated to practice meditation to feel better. That way, you might just meditate because you enjoy it and actually experience the benefits from it with this approach. When we don’t expect anything from an activity, it becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a burden.

Ignore those people who say you need to make an effort in order to experience a calm state. That’s just not true. As the more effort we make to become calm the further away from a calm state we get.

Don’t connect meditation to the idea that you’re doing it to feel better. That will just backfire. Please, for your sake, don’t also think meditation will stop your thoughts. It’s impossible to stop our thoughts… they just happen. Making an effort to stop our thoughts is exhausting and torturous. Our mind is designed to think, so trying to stop our thoughts is like trying to stop breathing. We are far better off taking our attention away from trying to quieten the mind and focus on activities we really enjoy doing. Activities which makes us feel emotionally satisfied, creative and authentic. That way we will settle right back into peace without even trying.

Inner calm is part of our natural state, so by doing the things which reconnect us to our natural state, we will experience feelings of calm and creativity. Personally, I think you’ll have a much better experience by focusing away from monitoring and trying to control the mind and onto creative outlets instead.

It’s not that meditation is inherently a bad thing, it’s just that I’m in more of a meditative state now than I ever was when I was meditating, or at least when I tried to achieve a calm state through it.

I think it’s the very act of trying to become calm that sets us up for frustration and further suffering. We make it into a practice which is going to stop our thoughts. Meditation isn’t supposed to be experienced this way. How can you allow yourself to settle back into emotional wellness or have a clear mind if the practice you’re doing is making you feel even more worked up? It makes no sense.

This doesn’t just apply to meditation, it applies to any technique or practice we use to make any effort to stop our thoughts. I’ve tried many techniques and practices over the years, all in the attempt to calm my mind. The funny thing is none of them actually helped. They all made me feel strained and worked up. Now, I don’t know if it was the techniques or practices, or just me approaching it in the wrong way.

The point is, any attempt I made at quieting the storm of the mind made the storm worse. Push the thoughts and feelings away and they just push right back at you. Not because they want to, but because that’s just the nature of the mind. Stop pushing the thoughts and feelings away and you create a peaceful relationship with them and they no longer trouble you.

When meditation becomes helpful rather than a hindrance to inner peace

From my own experience, I’ve found meditation to be really helpful when I’m no longer trying to get anything from it. I know I usually do feel relaxed and have more creative ideas when I meditate, but I’ve learnt to not expect this whilst meditating.

The best approach to adopt whilst meditating is to just let the mind and thoughts be as they are. Give your mind the permission to do what it wants without trying to stop it’s activity.

If meditation isn’t for you, then here’s what’s helped me “achieve” a calm and peaceful state without the need to meditate:

I stopped trying to stop, change or control my thoughts.

The reason why trying to change our thoughts is rarely a solution to quietening down the mind is because we are using more thought to try and put an end to thought. How can we calm a noisy mind by adding more thought? I touched on this earlier but it is very important to understand.

The more I focused on trying to control my thoughts, the more frustrated and stressed I felt.

I stopped trying to fight my way out of the feelings I experienced.

You escape by not trying to escape. When we welcome these uncomfortable and disturbing feelings, they have no power over us because they have no reason to disturb us. It’s only when we’re panicking about them and trying to get over them do they trouble us.

I stopped trying to make any attempt of letting go.

Yes, even letting go can be a struggle which generates more inner disturbances if approached in the wrong way…

I, for years, struggled with this concept. How do I apply this into my life was the question I always asked myself. I watched many videos and read many books on the topic of surrender and letting go. Most of the information just said to let go of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. While this is great advice, I just don’t think it’s the right approach which allows us to actually let go. You can’t let go by trying to let go, if that makes sense? I’m sure you’ll agree if you’ve tried doing this yourself. Letting go isn’t really something we do. It just a by-product of allowing our inner state to be exactly as it is without trying to think our way out of it.

So, the advice here is to DO NOTHING, absolutely nothing about the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing.

Doing nothing doesn’t mean we should stop what we’re doing in the world. It doesn’t mean we should just sit still and stare at a wall. It just means we do nothing inwardly about our inner state. In fact, the great thing is, we can do whatever want to do and still experience a calm state. We don’t have to focus on things which we are told to do by well-meaning gurus. We can play video games, exercise, read our favourite books, chill out with friends or whatever it is we want to do instead of making a huge effort to control or suppress our inner state, which after all, never works.

I stopped reasoning with the thoughts and feelings.

Honestly, we can’t win. No matter how hard we try and reason ourselves out of our negative thinking and feeling states, they’re going to be there anyway. From my experience, trying to put my mind right, going inside and trying to replace the unwanted thoughts with better ones just sucked me deeper into the storm. When I stopped doing this, it settled down all by itself.

It’s never about trying to stop or get over a negative state, it’s about changing the way we respond to it so we can free ourselves effortlessly.

I stopped focusing on them. I chose to channel my energy onto hobbies instead.

We can get told by many self-help or spiritual teachers to focus on our thoughts. In my opinion and from my personal experience, all focusing on my thoughts and feelings did was make me feel worse. When I say worse, I mean that it kept the unwanted thoughts and feelings in place. This makes sense because how can we let go of something we’re constantly reminding ourselves of.

How can we let go of the thoughts and feelings if we’re projecting our consciousness onto them? Surely whatever we focus on, grows? In that case, why would be pay attention to that which makes us experience more of?

We don’t have to observe our thoughts… what difference is that going to make? Sure, we can watch them if we want, but wouldn’t we rather be spending our time doing something we’d really want to do? The mind is designed to clear out any unwanted thoughts or feelings as our default is what I call calm neutrality. Our minds and bodies are always trying to return to this calm and neutral state as this is our default setting. We don’t have to do that ourselves, in fact, we really can’t do that ourselves.

We can create the illusion of control by thinking other thoughts, but again, the negative thoughts are still there in the background. Trying to change our inner state with more thoughts is only going to remind ourselves of what we’re trying to forget. Instead of trying to manipulate the mind through control and thought techniques, just understand that the mind is designed to find it’s own way back into balance and thoughts are designed to be transitory.

That’s the beauty of this approach. We can do whatever we want and our minds will still find their own way back to calm. We don’t have to worry about doing techniques and being mindful of our thoughts to feel better. The more we focus on trying to get out of the undesirable experience, the more we keep ourselves stuck in it.

External intervention unintentionally blocks the minds ability to self-regulate. It’s a paradox. The more focus and effort we put onto clearing out our mind of thoughts, the more we keep them in place.

I’m deliberately repeating myself because it’s important to get the message.

This doesn’t mean that the mind will return itself back to equilibrium straight away. In fact, it can take a little while before the storm passes. The point is, the storm of the mind (troubling thoughts and feelings) will pass without us having to do anything about it.

The reason why it seems to not pass is because we haven’t left our minds alone long enough for it to do it’s job of self-correcting. We resist what we’re feeling and make an unconscious attempt to stop or change our thoughts. This is like stepping into the hurricane.

Hurricanes come to an end in time, don’t they? While they may uproot hundreds of trees, cause destruction to buildings and kill life in the process, they always die out eventually. No amount of trying to stop the storm will make any difference will it? In the same way that no amount of trying to stop or control the stormy experience of the mind will make any difference. In fact, by interfering, we will just get swept away by it.

You know when people say forget about it for now and focus on something else because it’ll probably come back later? This is because we are getting out of our own way and allowing fresh ideas to come through.

Likewise, when we move away from trying to control and fix our anxious state, fresh insights and thoughts will break through, in time. This is because we are pulling our attention away from the inner turmoil and onto something else.

This is why when we go for walks, read engaging books, watch our favourite TV shows and/or films, draw, do creative ideas and solutions seem to seep through into our consciousness. When we’re trying to make our current stream of unwanted thoughts and feelings pass, we usually don’t have this experience.

One, because we’re focusing on more of what we don’t want to experience. This, by nature, will just perpetuate whatever it is we’re experiencing. Two, resistance makes stronger. Whatever we fight and see as an enemy, will become stronger in our imagination. We will tie a negative attachment to the thoughts and feelings, which can only make us feel more dis-empowered.

Fighting our inner state will never allow us to return to emotional wellness. It’s strange how our minds work. It really does seem like they work in accordance to the law of opposites. That means when we resist, it’s like the mind is saying: “Oh you want more of this, well here you go then”. We unconsciously assume that by resisting our inner state, we will make all of the inner suffering go away. whereas in reality, it only creates more suffering.

We are taught this as we grow up. We see it in films where resistance is taught to be strength and acceptance is portrayed to be a weakness. Then we apply this same resistive approach to our inner world of thoughts and emotions and wonder why we worse.

When we learn to be okay with our inner state, the mind says: “Oh so you’re not bothered by this anymore then, okay i’ll stop troubling you” and then the inner turmoil slows down and eventually comes to a stop.

Ultimately, you can view this approach as rubbish, but it is how we’ve been designed to operate. There is a greater intelligence at work within our bodies. This isn’t some mystical godlike intelligence… it’s just intelligent. It’s that intelligence that beats the heart, digests food, pumps hormones around the body. We don’t do any of these things and yet, they are happening whether we’re aware of it or not.

Whatever this intelligence is, it certainly isn’t us.

The same intelligence that governs the body also operates in our minds. We don’t consciously have to do anything about our thoughts and feelings. In fact, we really can’t. The only reason we think we have to fix our minds is because that’s what we think we have to do.

If we practice leaving our thoughts alone for long enough, this intelligence manifests as a self-sorting mind. It allows us to return to our natural state of calm neutrality without us having to do anything.

Experiment with this yourself. Practice not doing anything about your thoughts and feelings. Allow them to be there without wishing they were different. See if this cuts off the resistive and tense energy state we usually feel when fighting against our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

Important note: This article isn’t based on fact… at least I don’t think it is. This article is completely subjected to my own experience.