There are four primary hurdles, the pitfalls one has to constantly watch out for quality meditation and noticeable results. I elucidated the hurdles of restlessness and laziness in the previous posts. Today, I am going to shed light on the third hurdle: stray thoughts. Meditation is your ability to stabilize your mind on one thought, on your chosen thought, eventually becoming one with it. Such oneness gives birth to superconsciousness and superknowledge. It only comes with intense effort and supreme one-pointed concentration.
If you put in the quality effort, all else follows. Thoughts are inseparable from the mind just like heat from fire. The act of concentration requires you to make a conscious and exerting effort to focus on the desired thought. The art of meditation is to be able to hold that thought with perfect ease, without any undue exertion, with a sharp and still mind free of dullness and stupor. An adept is able to hold his session of meditation for as long as they want whereas an aspirant is able to meditate under favorable circumstances only, such as, pleasant surroundings, calm mind, no major stress, good physical health and so forth. The one who is still learning the art of meditation gets easily overpowered by stray thoughts. Causing ripples in the quiescence of your mind, they act like rocks thrown in still water.
The usual scenario
Like the physical world outside, your inner world is interdependent and interconnected. For an instance: in the outside world, if there is no fuel, your car fails to move, if there is no road, there is no where to drive your car, if there is no energy, there is no way to run the fuel refineries, if there are no vehicles, there are no methods to transport the fuel and so on. Everything is interdependent. No independent phenomenon exists in the outside material world. However exhaustive you may examine, you will get to the same conclusion. One thing links to another.
This is exactly the case with your inner world of thoughts too. While meditating, if you fail to check the very first thought, be prepared to be bogged down by thousands more. Let us say during meditation, you feel thirsty. Naturally, you think water, from water maybe an instance of buying bottled water, the shop, swiping the credit card, from credit card your mind may jump to an incident when you purchased gasoline with it, that may remind you of gas prices, cost of living, your scarce resources, how you could or should have saved in the past, from savings, you may jump to future planning and on and on and on and on and on and on…Suddenly, you feel loss of focus, energy, and concentration. Had you got back to your object of meditation the moment you first thought of water, you would be saved from all the rest. That is how simple it is, or is it?
Stray Thoughts: A natural hurdle
The natural state of mind is like the quiet, expansive sea. Thoughts are like waves. They can be tidal at times. Restlessness can be compared to a sea storm. Laziness is like the floating ship that has its engines shut down and is simply going in the direction of the wind. Just like sea is not sea without waves, mind is not mind without thoughts. There is no mind without thoughts. Something worth remembering. Thoughts are a product of the conditioned mind. Meditation is about rising above the conditioned mind to regain its natural and original state. It is a sublime experience. Of all the hurdles in meditation, having thoughts is the most natural one. Since it is the result of millions of years of evolution, it is so ingrained, inbuilt, it is the hardest to overcome. It can be done with right practice.
This is one hurdle you need not hold yourself responsible for. The cause is evolution. Conditioned mind’s natural tendency is to engage in thoughts. Anytime you pay attention, you will find yourself in thinking mode. During your meditation, as you become increasingly attentive getting past restlessness and sluggishness, your are met with the hurdle of thoughts. This is a catch twenty-two situation. Thoughts cause restlessness and when unchecked, they also make you dull and tired compromising your meditation.
As you continue to strike the balance between relaxation and exertion during your meditation, however, you start to gain control over your thought flow. They keep pouring though. You need not feel bad. This is natural. Thoughts have no intrinsic value or power. So long as you have an awareness, you will have thoughts. With great practice, you are able to replace all your thoughts with the only thought you are meditating on. You may well be meditating on no-thought, on emptiness. Unwanted thoughts equate to hurdles and loitering. And! all thoughts are unwanted when you are meditating; saving of course, the one you are meditating on.
Do not react at any thought. Simply, just drop it and get back to your point of meditation. Treat all thoughts with equal indifference. Do not examine or place any importance on any thought. There is a Sanskrit word frequently used in many tantric, yogic and meditational texts—smriti; it means memory or mindfulness. Only a vigilant mind can detect the emergence of a new thought. The key is to drop the thought as soon as it emerges. As you continue to practice your meditation with mindfulness and vigilance, thoughts not only become feeble but they almost stop emerging after a certain point. In that supreme quietude, when you continue your meditation with awareness, you inevitably experience transcendental bliss.