Meditation is incredibly simple. You sit, you close your eyes, you focus on (usually) your breath. Three steps. Nothing fancy. The reason that it’s simple but not easy, is that as soon as you settle down to do meditate, your mind begins to fill with a thousand complicated, urgent, worrying, interesting or totally random things to do. Eventually, one of these things gets hold of your attention, you forget to focus on your breath, and you’re no longer meditating.
Fortunately, meditation has a simple solution for this too. The moment you notice that you’re no longer meditating, you bring your focus back to your breath. That’s it. You let go of the thought that captured your attention and start again. This, as Dan Harris beautifully described it, is like a bicep curl for your brain.
Unlike our biceps though, we imagine that our brains should be able to handle whatever heavy lifting we want them to straight away. Our minds should be under our control. So watching them spinning around chaotically as we try to keep our awareness on the simple sensation of our breath going in and out, can be an uncomfortable, humbling experience.
Yet this discomfort is where I believe meditation really shines. Life is filled with humbling experiences after all. We’re constantly bumping up against situations which we feel should be under our control but turn out not to be. We’re constantly getting sidetracked and distracted from the things we’re trying to achieve and need to bring our focus back to them. Each time we do this, it’s like a bicep curl for our will.
Meditation is like a miniaturised, simplified version of life. You have a plan. You get distracted from it. You regroup and try again. When you get right down to it, there’s nothing in more life that is more complicated than this. But whereas life gives the impression of complexity, meditation is clear about how simple it is. You sit, you close your eyes. You focus on your breath. When things don’t go as planned, and they won’t, just start again.