There’s an idea among some novice meditators that you are supposed to sit down and stop thinking. Then, they are frustrated that they can’t do it. Well, of course not! It doesn’t work that way!
It would be very much like a novice pole vaulter that’s heard, “You’re supposed to jump over that bar.” So they go over and start wildly trying to jump over the bar. It won’t work. Not in 100 years will they jump over that pole. Why? Because there is a practice, a process that you have to go through.
For the pole vault, you have to:
- Find a pole of the right length.
- Run real fast.
- Plant the pole and use it to launch yourself into space.
- Move your body into the right position to clear the bar.
But there’s even more than that. If you want to really be able to do it well, there are other practices that get you ready.
- Eat right.
- Get enough sleep.
- Work on your speed.
- Find a great coach and team.
And probably dozens of other considerations. It’s the same for meditation! If you could just sit down and not think, that would be great. But it’s a practice.
- Relax your body and mind.
- Develop positive mind states (Right Effort)
- Put your attention on the breath or other object of meditation (Right Mindfulness).
- When you find you’ve lost your mindfulness, go back to step 2.
Following this practice is a good way to reach the goal. But like with pole vaulting, there is plenty else you need to do if you want to have success in meditation.
- Study the Buddha’s teachings. (Right Understanding)
- Find a good teacher.
- Make good dhamma friends.
- Follow the precepts. (Sila)
- Develop your mindfulness throughout the day.
You get the idea! A mind without thoughts doesn’t arise until at least 1st jhana, and arguably not until 2nd jhana. In that sense, maybe the better analogy is learning to ride a bike. When it happens, it happens. And then it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to NOT be able to ride a bike!