Opinions as an obstacle to Meditation

Many of us have tried to learn meditation and found that at first, it is impossible to stop our mind from wandering here and there. In the beginning, the mind moves around, the body complains; our nose itches and we scratch it, or our back hurts and distracts us. Maybe there is too much noise from the traffic or someone sneezes or someone’s giggling or we keep getting interrupted by our children or our friend, or we keep going to sleep or there isn’t enough time because we have so much to do.

All these problems aren’t because of how our life is or because of how we think – these problems are how we think. Usually we don’t notice how we think because we’re so busy doing things, but the moment we stop doing things and sit still, we get to see how difficult and noisy we are all the time. Many of us are either annoyed or despairing at seeing this and blame it on meditation, or blame ourselves. Once again, we’re just displaying how we think. It goes on and on.

The opinions we have about the noise, the interruptions and the giggling and about our opinions, are all just the normal opinions or products of our mind. It’s how the movie in our mind works. Something grabs our attention for a split second then we judge it, verbalise it and file it, so that we can return to it later in our movie. ‘She should dress her age.’ ‘Who would buy that car?’ ‘What a bastard – how could he treat her like that?’ ‘What a beautiful baby.’ ‘She’s so spiritual.’ ‘I hate red.’ ‘I’m no good at meditation.’ ‘Wow, that meditation was amazing – I must be nearly enlightened!’ If we stopped having opinions, we would get dynamic silence. The Chinese Zen Master Sosan said, ‘Don’t try to get enlightened – just stop having opinions.’ 

The first part of learning to meditate, is to learn to sit still. The trick to doing this is in not taking any of our opinions seriously. This sounds strange. We think we know this or that. We definitely know that this thing is beautiful or correct and that this other thing is ugly or wrong. I had a friend many years ago who couldn’t believe that I liked listening to acapella jazz music. She was sure that I only played it to annoy her. According to her, ‘Nobody could like that stuff!’ She grew up only listening to pop radio and believed that all people really only loved pop music. She hadn’t been acquainted with opera, jazz, blues or classical music and was convinced that people only pretended to like all of these. This was really the view from her geography and her social demographic. 

When we think about it, most, if not all of our opinions have more to do with geography, than with any well thought out reasoning, or inner qualification to know the truth. This is such a basic idea that it’s now taught in North American high schools as behavioural studies. 

Basically, this is understanding that our particular group’s cultural beliefs, influence our opinions and behaviour without our being fully aware of it, and that we, as groups of people, exhibit different responses to the same stimuli due these influences. For example, a western girl wearing a miniskirt probably won’t understand how or why Muslim girls can wear the burka in the heat of summer. Similarly, a Muslim girl from Jakarta will probably think the tourist girls from Sydney in their skimpy outfits are outrageous. If a boy is born in Australia, chances are he’ll follow cricket. If he comes from the USA he’ll probably think the game is bizarre. 

Opinions. What to do about them? We can’t just stop opinions with our mind or get rid of them by saying that opinions are bad. That’s just another opinion, another part of the mind movie. Meditation has nothing to do with this opinionated mind. It’s above this mind, but to let it find us, we have to start someplace. Our opinions are usually quite simple – we agree with our friends and argue with those who aren’t our friends. The Sufi poet Hafiz wrote,‘It is not easy to stop thinking ill of others.Usually one must enter into a friendshipwith a personwho has accomplished thatgreat feat himself.Then something might startto rub off on us of thatTrue Elegance.’ 

Many years ago, an Indian guru answered a question from a man who was at odds with his girlfriend over some obscure point in theology. The guru just answered, ‘In any argument, the one who is the most serious is wrong.’ This is a very valuable teaching. If we are alive and possessing an ego, a sense of I-ness, then we will have opinions. But we don’t need to be attached to these opinions, or our sense of I-ness. Generally we think we’re special in a certain way. For some this means they think they can achieve anything – for others it means they think so poorly of themselves that they think they are incapable of achieving anything. Both views are just exhibiting an attachment to I-ness – so really they’re no different. 

The idea of the popular book, The Secret is that you can achieve anything. This idea is just based on everybody’s attachment to thinking that they’re special. This isn’t a secret. I-ness is nothing special really. All people, all animals and birds and all insects exhibit it. Plants probably have it. What’s so special about this really? The Hindu sages used to call this I-ness, ahamkara. It means I-ness and also means, the veil. This is because our sense of I-ness keeps us unaware of the very nature of ourselves. Unfortunately, this is the real secret. Behind our sense of I-ness is a pure awareness that we share with everything. This is our true nature and it’s not based on achieving anything. Our pure awareness, our beingness, our serenity, moment to moment is all that really matters. Practicing meditation is just a tool to help us to have insight into the achieving mind. Essentially there is no need for this, as it only requires direct insight, not sitting still. Bankei, the famous Zen Master refused to let his students meditate for thirty years because he thought it just distracted them from being aware at all times. Eventually he relentedand let them sit for thirty minutes every morning and night. Even Bankei reluctantly agreed that sitting still was of some benefit. 

The key to meditation is not to be serious about it. Just go through the motions everyday. Stop trying to sit still, don’t give our opinions about trying any credit. Just be aware that you’re trying. This doesn’t mean actively trying to ignore opinions or having any attitude towards them, after all, this would just be another opinion. When we can sit still, we won’t have any opinions we take seriously. The trick to letting meditation happen is to stop having opinions or meddling with our mind. 

The Taoist sage Lao Tzu said, ‘Should we meddle, then we are not equal to the task of winning the empire.’Translated into our 21st century language, this means that if we try to meditate, we can’t succeed ~ because meditation happens when we are not trying. This doesn’t mean that we just sit down and let our thoughts and feelings overwhelm us.

In the ancient Chinese meditation text, Secret of the Golden Flower, there is a line that translates as, ‘You can get it by effort that is not willful.’ We have to do something, but that something does not involve trying to do it. So where does the effort come in? At first, in watching our breath.

The mind is so dynamic that any movement has strong repercussions. It’s like a sailboat in a strong current. Just as we have an anchor for a boat, we need an anchor for the mind. In the beginning, the simplest thing to tie the mind to is the breath. If you think this is too simple, remember:

• this is another opinion.

• the Buddha did it every day – how bad can it be for you? 

Sitting silently, doing nothingSpring comes and the grass grows by itself.” Sosan 

Although meditation happens by itself when you’re doing nothing, the practice for meditation to occur, is about training our attention. This is about being present, not absent. Many people believe they are meditating by sitting and dreaming/drifting every morning for half an hour. This is not the case. They are just day dreaming and while it may give them some rest, it has nothing to do with meditation. If someone taps us on the shoulder when we’re meditating and asks for our phone number and we don’t recall it instantly, we’re dreaming not meditating. Being in the present is gentle mind and present awareness rather than sleepy, peaceful snoozing. 

In the beginning of learning the practice of watching the breath, it’s best to count the breaths. Start at one and after one cycle of in and out breath, count two and so on until you get to ten. Then start counting backwards until you get to one and then go up again and so on. At first our attention will only grasp the beginning of each in and out-breath, but after a while we’ll begin to to really feel, listen to and watch the breathing deeply. When this happens, we can let go of the counting. 

Don’t get into the rush of trying to be a good meditator. When you can sit still with the counting, then drop it. It is best to spend at least four weeks just on counting the breaths, before you drop it. 

You need to understand that this practice is just about training your attention, so don’t get serious about it. Attention is the one thing we need in everything we do and there is never any specific training for it. The reason that you need attention for this, is that meditation isn’t really about sitting still – you can do that when you’re dead. Meditation is about direct insight into mind, and for that, you need attention. “Unless you are as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom.” Jesus  

To begin your meditation:
Sit comfortably with your back straight but relaxed Don’t take this seriously or think it’s about being spiritual. Trying to be spiritual is a great nonsense. Everyone who thinks they’re spiritual is just demonstrating that they are still at the mercy of their opinions. 

Let your mind relax
Be interested in the breath rather than forcing yourself to do this. The Jewish mystic Jesus said, ‘Unless you are as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom.’ This is a description of our mind in meditation practice. When we were small children, playing on the beach or in the garden, we were happily, gently and vitally interested in the current pursuit. That was before we learnt effort. Put effort away and be vitally and happily interested. Don’t get serious, you’d be better off going to the beach. Being serious merely trains us in being serious and we already know how to do that. 

Gently, become aware of the breath
Not by focusing hard on the breath, but by being present in our body and noticing our breath because we are, after all, alive and breathing. This doesn’t mean cutting off from outside noises or thoughts. If you try to cut things out, that is what you are doing. This is not sitting quietly, listening to the breath. 

Watch with your mind, listen with your ears and feel with your body
If you just watch the breath with your mind you will be easily distracted or just succeed in freezing the mind rather than freeing it. Put your attention on the physical feelings of air movement in and out of the nose and also on listening to the sound of the breath to become more aware. 

Gradually let the breath become finer until you can’t hear it anymore, but you’re still listening
When the breathing is noisy, the mind is noisy. When the breathing is quiet, the mind is quiet. Don’t try and hold the breath to keep it quiet or struggle with it at all. Just gradually let it become a little finer, then a little finer again – until you can’t hear it, but you are still listening. Do this practice for a while everydayIf you time yourself, don’t use a watch, get an alarm so you don’t have to check and disturb yourself. Make the time at least 15 minutes. Be happyHappiness does not care where you are or who you are. It comes when we let go of our opinions about ourselves

By Kevin Niv Farrow

Kevin is the Founder and Director of AcuEnergetics® as well as a Master AcuEnergetics® Practitioner and Teacher of AcuEnergetics®. Kevin has practised and studied meditation and the energetic system since 1974. He has taught since 2000 and his published writings, meditation CD’s and teachings have brought him worldwide recognition as a unique and practical meditation teacher and an expert in the field of energy medicine. He currently teaches in Australia, USA, India, Asia and Europe. For more information about Kevin, visit Kevin’s full biography.