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Recently, I read The Restful Mind by the Buddhist monk Gyalwa Dokhampa. As soon I read the title, I knew I’d identify with this book; I took up meditation quite recently and have been trying to calm the restlessness of my own mind.
Symptoms of the restless mind
These days, many of us feel that we always need to be doing something. I’ve noticed myself finishing a task and hastily looking around for something else to do. It’s as if we’re frightened to be alone with our own thoughts. Closely linked to this is the mindset – arguably imposed upon us by capitalism – that we ought to be doing something ‘productive’ at all times. We don’t believe that sitting in quiet contemplation is a valid use of our time.
If our minds are restless, we tend to feel bored and frustrated when we have nothing to do. We are unable to simply enjoy our own company. Most of us have been this way for so long that we don’t realise there’s an alternative.
Living in the moment
We are often advised to live in the moment, but this phrase can be difficult to understand. Effectively, it means we should be fully present no matter what we’re doing. We shouldn’t always be longing for the past or worrying about the future.
For example, I used to have the unhealthy habit of scrolling down Facebook while I ate lunch. I’d convinced myself this was an efficient use of my time, but in reality it was just distracting me from the present moment. I now believe that food is a sacred thing – it literally keeps us alive. These days, I do my best to be truly present and savour my food. There’s nothing worse than just shovelling it in, barely tasting it because you’re so distracted.
Meditation has so many proven benefits, yet so few of us take the time to practice it. There are many different ways to meditate, all of which can help to calm our restless minds. Gyalwa Dokhampa gives some particularly helpful examples, my favourite of which is the appreciation meditation.
This simply involves spending some time contemplating all the things in our lives which we appreciate. I’ve taken to doing this throughout the day; there are always things to appreciate, even if it’s been a bad day.
Another meditation suggested in the book is ‘contemplating change’. By acknowledging that everything changes, we can stop clinging so tightly to certain people or possessions and learn how to let go.
Is it worth the effort?
Calming our restless minds is a lot of work, and some may wonder if it’s worth it. Does it really matter if our minds are very active?
I believe the answer is yes. It’s very easy to get stressed and worked up when your mind is whirring at a million miles an hour. Also, dwelling too much on the past or the future can breed worry and regret. I find I’m much more likely to make a mountain out of a molehill when my mind is restless.
Our restless minds may sometimes lead us to make decisions which aren’t in our best interests, like staying late at work rather than going home to our families. Our egos can easily encourage us to muddle up our priorities. But when our minds are restful, we can let go of whatever isn’t serving us. This makes it much easier to see difficult situations objectively and make decisions with a clear head.
I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my mental state since reading The Restful Mind – for example, I feel more able to calmly communicate with others who have upset me. I’m also less likely to get worked up over small things, and I feel more comfortable sitting in quiet contemplation.
Have you noticed restlessness in your own mind? Do you think it’s important to find ways to combat it?
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