One-pointedness of the mind and senses, a superior practice as described by Sri Shankaracharya, is not easy to attain. Distractions are common during meditation and often difficult to manage despite our best efforts. Though we often try to ignore distractions, expelling them with little or no thought, another option is to focus on them. In so doing, we may be able to sort out these distractions and learn about ourselves.
In regards to the concentration process, there are five states of mind as described by the sage Vyasa. These are as follows:
- Kshipta disturbed and thrown about
- Mudha stupefied and bewildered
- Vikshipta distracted
- Ekagra one-pointed
- Niruddha fully arrested in concentration
According to Vyasa, the states of Kshipta and Mudha are not suited to concentration. However, those who are stuck in these states can benefit from the practice of yoga. Individuals who are struggling with addictions or other attachments will find that practicing the yamas, niyamas, yoga postures, relaxed breathing and systematic relaxation of yoga can help. Several months spent in practice can help to provide the mind with order and self-control.
Vikshipta is the most common state of mind among those practicing meditation. For these individuals, it is their goal to reach Ekagra, the fourth state of one-pointedness. While our concentration may improve, meditation is still interrupted by a variety of thoughts and images. The most common distractions are listed below with advice on reconciling them.
Your attempts at meditation are likely to be interrupted by your most recent thoughts, those which you were processing just before beginning to meditate. This may include thoughts on the news story you just watched or the bill you just received. Rather than ignoring these thoughts, it s important that you give the mind time to process them. Take a few minutes of quiet repose before beginning or resuming meditation and allow your mind to sort through these thoughts.
Aside from your most recent thoughts, random thoughts can interrupt meditation. These inconsequential thoughts tend to send our minds off on tangents. While settling down to meditate, you might witness an airplane flying overhead, which makes you think of your upcoming trip to Mexico, which then reminds you of this yummy recipe for quesadillas you ve been wanting to try. Random thoughts. We can easily find ourselves spending minutes on end pursuing these seemingly innocuous thoughts. If you find yourself sidetracked, simply remind yourself from time to time that you are meditating.
Songs can be particularly disruptive to your meditation, whether it s a popular tune you just heard on the radio or a jingle from a commercial. When you ve got a tune obsessively replaying itself in your head, simply relax and settle into your meditation, breathe deeply, and before you know it the song will fade. Likewise, physical pain can prove particularly irritating to your meditating, both the pain itself and your attempts to alleviate it. Instead of worrying over the pain, take the same efforts as you would that irritating song. Relax, settle into your meditation, and breathe deeply. With time, the pain will no longer prove a distraction. Also make sure that your posture during meditation is correct. An incorrect posture can unsettle and distract you. Make sure that you re clothing is comfortable and nonbinding and that your hips are properly supported. If you feel bothered by discomfort in your ankles, rounding of your lower back, neck pain, loss of circulation in your feet, or other physical symptoms caused by misalignments, take a moment to address them and correct your posture.
One of the most powerful distractions is the sexual fantasy. The yoga tradition perceives sex as both a physical and a psychological urge, one which can be satisfied by merely thinking about sex. Fortunately, this sexual energy need not be a distraction and can, in fact, be diverted to your meditation practice. When you find yourself distracted by sexual fantasies, focus on your breathing, in particular the sensations that accompany each inhalation and exhalation. As you feel each breath and remain patient, your system will relax.
Sleep, or sleepiness, is another common distraction when it comes to meditation. Though your snoring may prove a bit embarrassing, it s not uncommon for a yoga classes participant to fall asleep during guided meditation. Like many other distractions, remain focused on your breathing when you feel the sleepy. Paying attention to each inhalation and exhalation will help to keep you present.
Many distractions during meditation revolve around our egos. We are plagued by thoughts about what we want, what we need, how something can benefit us. Sufi mystic Ibn al- Arabi wrote poignantly on the subject of the ego: When my Beloved appears/With what eye do I see him?/With His eye, not with mine,/For none sees Him except Himself. The key here is to surrender, to be willing to see through His eye and nor our own, to welcome humility. In so doing, distractions will gradually pass and we may come closer to the goal of meditation.