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After a simple guided meditation, one of my students candidly and courageously admitted that her mind was as busy as ever and that she felt a sense of almost panic. I assured her that was a normal reaction of the ego and told her that “the mind is a bitch, but you don’t have to be your mind’s bitch.”

The meditation was as simple as can be (and simple does not imply easy): I guided my students to simply observe: first to notice all sounds, then the outer edges of their bodies, on to the their mental activity and finally their breath. Some types of more creative guided meditation can be relaxing and very helpful, but the mind can sort of co-opt the experience and appoint itself as the producer of the calm you feel as the result of the meditation. There is a misconception that meditation should always make us feel good. Meditation is a practice of guiding us to truth, and the way there is not always a spa like experience.

The purpose of the simple, bare bones meditation I chose for my students the other day was to point to that part of us that’s always observing what is, without evaluating it, judging it to trying to change it. Which is why this meditation can be so difficult: the mind finds itself out of its job since the mind is the part of us that is constantly analyzing, judging and commenting on what it perceives. Out of its job, the mind starts to panic, and does whatever it can do get its job back. Hence the anxiety during the meditation.

Experiencing discomfort or even panic like my student did is in no way a bad thing, no matter how much the mind despises states it labels as negative. It’s not a sign of spiritual immaturity or proof that you’re a messed up person. The only thing this meditation, whatever it looks like for you on any given day, proves is that there is something in you that is aware of the perpetual fear mongering of the mind. It’s a powerfully healing and extremely insightful technique of exposing the mind for what it is: a set of beliefs and a collection of thoughts held in place only because of our overwhelming fear to look beyond this whole construct.

Remember the Wizard of Oz? Once Dorothy sees that behind the curtain is not the great and all powerful Wizard of Oz, but just an ordinary guy who learned to perform some clever tricks, she starts to realize that she had been worshipping a ghost. What a great metaphor for our own process of exposing the fake authority of the mind. The mind may be the king of clever tricks, and the cleverest trick it has up its sleeve is convincing you that it IS you. But a trick is just that: an illusion. And no illusion can sustain itself indefinitely.

So don’t be afraid to sit in meditation, friends. The purpose of meditation is not to check out of reality and magically slip into some blissed out state. That may happen, of course, because anything can, but any projected outcome is just the mind’s attempt to control the process. The mind will do anything to keep you believing that you have no choice but to be its bitch. And that’s exactly why the mind doesn’t like simple meditations that leave it temporarily unemployed: you finally get a taste of freedom from the mind because you see that there is a presence in you that is aware of the mind and therefore not subservient to the mind.

This process show us what it means to be in the now. It’s not a matter of forcing the “me” to somehow drop all thought and stop being human. The part of me that identifies as that “me” can’t be in the now because it can’t accept what is; it’s not equipped to do that unless what is happening agrees with what it wants (and that never lasts long). But the other part of me that’s aware of the “me” can and always does live in the now and has already accepted what is; it always accepts what is because it doesn’t see itself as separate from what is, which is life. Shifting to a state of presence, or freeing yourself from the mistaken belief that you have to be your mind’s bitch, is as simple as adjusting your focus from the mind to that which is aware of the mind’s activity.

This is the great secret that is not a secret at all: To experience freedom, you don’t have to change yourself or your surroundings or your circumstances. You don’t need to wait for that elusive one day. But you do have to be brave enough to pull open the curtain of the mind. Like Dorothy, you will find that the power and greatness you sought were in you all along, and you will be able to take yourself back home and, at the same time, realize that you never left home.