“I Can’t Meditate!”

As we begin the practice of meditation, we may discover that our minds don’t remain still for a single moment. We may then form the opinion that meditation is not beneficial, because it apparently creates more agitation, or we may come to the conclusion that we are just not capable of meditating. 

The fact is that our minds are constantly agitated, even if our everyday distraction does not generally allow us to perceive the quantity and chaotic nature of our thoughts. When we sit down to meditate, we simply become aware —perhaps for the first time— of how many thoughts are constantly arising in the mind. 

Far from being a ‘failure’ to meditate, the awareness of the cascading thoughts constitutes the first level of meditation. Noticing the presence of these thoughts is both unavoidable and necessary. Without confronting the scattered condition of the mind, we cannot develop the ability to focus. 

To maintain a regular sitting practice, we must understand that there are various levels of meditation, starting with that in which thoughts appear like a raging waterfall, which is technically called ‘Placement’, through various levels of decreasing agitation, until we finally reach a state of Equanimity, or ‘Natural Placement without Exertion’. 

If we expect to attain profound meditation immediately, we will be disappointed. But if we can slowly detect progress along this continuum (from Placement to Equanimity), we will develop confidence and certainty in the benefits of the practice. 

The simplest method of meditation, awareness of breath, is also one of the most powerful. Gently placing our awareness on the breath —without attempting to control or alter it in any way, just noticing the feeling of the air as it enters and leaves the nostrils— we progressively bring order to the disordered mind through nine levels. 

Meditation Level: Description: Metaphor
1. Placement: Short-Duration of Attention
: Cascading Water
2. Rest: Repeated Short-Duration of Attention
: River Rapids
3. Settlement: Interrupted Continuous Placement
: Fast River
4. Resolute Settlement: Brief Intrusions to Continuous Placement
: Slow River
5. Cultivation: Continuous Placement with Joy & Relaxation
: Tranquil River
6. Pacification: Continuous Placement with Infrequent Wandering
: Sea with Waves
7. Complete Pacification: Distractions Immediately Reversed
: Sea with Small Waves
8. One-Pointedness: Complete Placement with Exertion
: Placid Ocean Surface
9. Equanimity: Natural Placement without Exertion: Still Ocean Depths

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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7 Responses to “I Can’t Meditate!”

  1. Yue-han Su says:

    Sometimes it feels like white water rafting! The best recent advice I’ve gotten from a friend is to focus on the meditation object (e.g. the breath) and practice “letting go” of thoughts. Now, I almost welcome the thoughts, seeing them as part of this process. See a thought, let it go, return to the breath. The trickiest part is not getting lost in the thoughts because then the attention to breath is absent. But so be it. Return to the breath.

    Sometimes the broiling rapids give way to pools and eddies, but there is always more white water round the next bend in the river. It’s all okay.

  2. Using water as a metaphor was brilliant.
    Most people have been in or seen water bodies like this..
    And all the better to know what they feel like.


  3. A very good analogy with the water. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. David Yeshe Green says:

    Excellent metaphors. 🙂

    One of the aspects of observing the breath is that it is sometimes difficult not to then control that breathing, without even realising we are doing it. If we take three deep and long inhalations and exhalations as soon as we settle into our meditation posture, and then relax into ‘letting short breaths be short and long breaths be long’, it sometimes helps us avoid that ‘control’. We begin with awareness of our breath control and then joyously abandon it. 🙂

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      Yes! In our practice, we begin by establishing awareness of the body in seven steps (7-point posture), and then proceed to ‘control’ the breath consciously, by making it continuous, smooth, and deep. Next, we focus attention on the tip of the nose, feeling the sensation of the air as it enters and leaves the nostrils, and then alternately focus on the sensation of the air entering the left nostril, exiting the right, entering the right, and exiting the left. We continue this process of alternate nostril breathing for a few cycles, and then return to simple awareness of the breath, having ‘satisfied’ the urge to control its movements…

  5. Yue-han Su says:

    By the way, I love all the art work in these blog entries, as well as around the site. You have quite a stock of wonderful images. I appreciate reading the daily posts and associating them with beautiful and evocative forms. Lovely.

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