How to deal with restlessness in meditation

ni tips for aa takle rastloeshet i meditasjonen acem large

By Jonas Meyer

Everyone who meditates will from time to time encounter restlessness in meditation. Here are nine suggestions on how to handle it. Restlessness in meditation is a sign that there is something in you that you are not quite managing to embrace. Restlessness is therefore an important and interesting phenomenon in meditation. It represents a golden opportunity to create change. By repeating the meditation sound in an effortless way, you work through basic structures in your personality. Still – how can you do that when you are restless?

  1. Don’t do anything in a drastically new way

“Keep calm and carry on”, just as the poster in London advised in 1939, before the blitz bombing of the city. Your job is to continue gently repeating the meditation sound even when you are restless.

  1. Let the restlessness be a part of your spontaneous activity

Don’t try to push the restlessness away. Just let it be there. It may be tempting to try to take control over your spontaneous activity. Attempting to do so will, however, lead you astray. Everything that emerges spontaneously, including restlessness, belongs to the meditation. Allow the frustration to be there, and continue the repetition of the sound.

  1. Lower your demands to what effortless repetition means

The free mental attitude is not a static phenomenon.  If you meditate in an effortless way in one situation – you may have to do it in a different way in a new situation. We easily think that the free mental attitude is the same as a pleasant meditation, but it is not a state of mind. It is a mental attitude.

The free mental attitude is to be restless and still do your best.

The free mental attitude is to be open to what emerges, including restlessness.

In certain mental landscapes, we are able to be more open than in others. Sometimes a little bit of the free mental attitude is the best we can manage, and if so, that is good enough.

  1. Allow the meditation sound to change

We tend to have high standards about how the meditation sound should be. If the sound is too far from our ideal, we easily end up pulling ourselves together and actively concentrating. Or we may simply give up, sit there passively, and wait for time to pass.

Restlessness that influences you will probably also influence your repetition of the sound. The free mental attitude may often involve our allowing the sound to change during meditation.

Can you allow the sound to be unclear? Can you accept a sound that is less distinct? Clinging to your idea of a perfect sound may end in concentration.

Meditative perfectionism does not lead you anywhere. There is no such thing as «a perfect meditation sound». Meditation ideals usually prevent the free mental attitude in meditation rather than being helpful.

  1. Listen to the meditation sound

Sometimes the meditation sound may change into something that isn’t a sound. You may experience it as a sensation, something visual, or an inner rhythm. Although such experiences may occur in meditation as spontaneous phenomena, we should always get back to the sound aspect of the meditation sound when we have the choice. Be aware that the sound is something you hear with your inner ear.

  1. Is the meditation sound something you create?

Restlessness may overwhelm us and make us passive. Perhaps we think that the sound is «extra effortless» if it goes automatically. However, an optimal meditation assumes that we create the sound ourselves. Meditating is a volitional activity, even when it is subtle and minimal. The gentle repetition of the sound involves producing it, and not merely being a passive observer.

  1.  Remember that in meditation you always get the spontaneous activity you need

You are always in the right place in meditation, even when it doesn’t feel like that. If you stop meditating when you are restless, the restlessness tends to come back later. Which means the problem is simply postponed. There is no shortcut to get around restlessness. The only way is to go through it. With gentleness.

  1. If you start to struggle in meditation in order to follow these suggestions, let go

Don’t start projects which make you concentrate. Let the restlessness flow through you while you repeat the sound as effortlessly as you can.

  1. Listen to the restlessness

We are all restless in meditation from time to time. The question is: What is the restlessness trying to tell you? Are you able to listen?

The way to listen is not to try to understand the restlessness with your rationality, but to be sensitive and present. Repeat the sound as close to the restlessness as you are able and let it play itself out. Try to embrace it. Let the restlessness impact you. It has something to tell you.

Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug

Language editor: Eirik Jensen

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