Meditation is tough. Sitting patiently with our selves, with our messy minds, is not an easy task. That's why we do it. Not for self-flagellation or ego-pumping determination. But to cultivate acceptance, discipline and calm.
The discomfort, the mess, the challenge, is part of the process. Intellectually that makes sense. Feeling it though, when you're sat there doing battle with your internal narrator (i.e. your little, vulnerable, weak and shouty self), it's enough to make you give up. Don't. Persist. This is where the lessons lie.
Thoughts are like weeds
Whether you're someone who is accustomed to the fluctuations of the mind, or if (or when) you struggle to abide in the discomfort that so often comes with the wrestling match of meditation, thinking of the impulsive thoughts as weeds can be helpful.
It's a concept outlined in ‘Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind’, courtesy of the magnanimous being that was Shunryu Suzuki:
“Pulling out the weeds, we give nourishment to the plant.”
The standard approach to weeds is to consider them a blight, a nuisance, something to be eliminated, extracted and exterminated at once. However, this is a perspective tainted by our own desire and preconceived judgement - the desire for perfection and beauty without effort (which is idealistic, unrealistic, futile and guaranteed to cause suffering, the very definition of what Buddhism defines as dukka, in fact), and the naive notion that we, our garden, our mind, is worthy of better.
Wanting beauty and wanting to be better are natural enough aspirations. But we have to be careful about what we expect. As any gardener will know, working with the weeds is an unavoidable part of the process of cultivating the imagined landscape.
Muttering in disdain while you do it is simply a waste of energy. And a denial of reality. The weeds are a more natural occurrence than the flowers we plant, they exist and arise as a matter of course, while the seeds we embed are a bonus.
Make space for the dirt
This is the message behind the koan-like wisdom that infuses Suzuki's teachings. It's the message that the weeds, real and metaphorical, relay to us. They are a reminder of the imperfections that pave the way. Of life and the process of anything as determined by, perhaps in spite of, but certainly not without, the obstacles.
Rather than stubbornly resisting or lamenting them, we would be better off accepting their coexistence with the blossoms we wish to cultivate. Weeds too, Suzuku tells us, have their part to play if we let them. When they rot into the ground, like compost, they enrich the soil, fertilise and fuel growth. Yes, they need to be extracted, but with consideration for their value, not with contempt.
The same applies to our mind. We can, with our higher mind, adopt the role of bearing witness to the ranting, attention-seeking little voice in our head. Rather than shout it down, we are better off just listening, silently observing, until it wears itself out. If we don't feed it, if we don't respond or engage, it will fade out.
That's not the same as ignoring it. We nonetheless need to disentangle ourselves, but with a different perspective. The struggle need not be emotive.
Learn to let go
When observing the waves of the mind, when irritated and distracted by the thoughts that keep arising, if we can accept this is a natural part of the process, we will be less likely to let anger or frustration arise and carry us off on another wave entirely.
Instead, a reasoned perspective of acceptance, even gratitude, can help us adopt a calmer, more open-minded approach to these fluctuations and undulations as part of the ride.
As with most things out of our control, the background noise, the persistent weeds that will always emerge in the garden, the mutterings of the subconscious, we can relieve the tension by letting go of the grip.