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Stop Pushing

Q: I've been trying to meditate for 20 years, and it gets harder and harder.  My thoughts have increased, so that if I 'push away' one thought; there are still many others all around me.  The process of pushing away thoughts becomes an unpleasant chore that doesn't stop, till I get bored or tired with it.  It isn't relaxing at all and I stop trying to meditate.  I'm told I'm an intelligent multi-tasker but it means my mind is never quiet, even when I sleep.   There is stress when I'm awake and stress when I'm alseep.   They say to quiet the mind you should meditate but I have described what happens.   Please advise.

A: The difficulty you are having is directly related to the method you are employing, i.e. pushing thoughts away.  Meditation exists for the purpose of calming and focusing the mind, but when you get into a shoving match with thoughts you experience the kinds of difficulties that you have described.

Think of it this way: thoughts, being mental impulses, have energy.  Whenever you push a thought away you are actually transferring much of the energy used to do the pushing directly to the mental impulse itself.  Over time the thoughts tend to become stronger and more intrusive.  A good analogy is a spring-loaded jack-in-the-box.  When you compress the spring into the box and shut the lid, the spring retains a great deal of potential energy.  Instead of just sitting there the spring pushes against the lid so the next time the lid opens, the spring pops out.

Believe it or not, we're not trying to cause our thoughts to go away but rather to co-exist with them in an interdependent relationship.  We need our thoughts to live a normal life, so trying to get away from them is ultimately self-defeating.  Our difficulty and stress in this regard comes not from the fact that thoughts exist; it comes from the fact that we try to follow them all around.  Then we try to compensate by getting rid of the thoughts, which is like treating the symptoms of a disease but not the cause.  The cause of our difficulty is our habitualized attachment to thoughts, so it is that habitualization which we must deal with.  When this is successfully done we don't chase our thoughts all over the place, and this makes for a more peaceful mind.

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