Back in December 2013, I went to a 5-day Vipassana Meditation retreat outside Boston (the IMS in Barre, Mass).
Overall, it was a pretty rough experience for me. I struggled, and to be honest, I’m not sure it’s something I’ll do again in my lifetime.
That said, I learned a lot about meditation in those 5 days, and I took a number of things away with me after the program.
One of the more valuable concepts I took away was this idea of what to do during meditation when you catch your mind wandering.
In breathe meditation, typically, you attempt to focus your mind on your breath for the duration of the exercise… say, for example, focusing on the point of your nose where you can feel the air going in and out with each breath, for 20 minutes or however long.
Inevitably, though, your mind wanders. You start thinking about something, and like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine, a whole series of interconnected thoughts go by before you catch yourself and recognize that your mind has wandered away from your breathe.
In that moment, where you’ve recognized your mind has wandered, it’s easy to get frustrated.
It’s easy to think, “I’m not doing it right,” or maybe just, “Ugh. Damn it.”
What our instructor taught us was, in that moment, that “awakening” or “reflective” moment where we recognize our mind has wandered, we shouldn’t be frustrated.
We should change our relationship with that moment. Instead of thinking of it as a negative thing – a moment of recognizing failure – we should think of it as a positive thing – that that recognition itself is why we’re practicing.
With that frame, it’s a moment in which you can be happy. You’ve recognized your silly little wandering mind going off on it’s own, and then, like a loving parent, can patiently and with a sense of appreciation and humor, redirect it back to your breath.