The truth is, I don't think I'm good at meditation. I know I'm out of practice with it, but honestly I was never good at it. I can't seem to get my mind to hold still. I mentioned this once to an Indian monk, and he said, "It's a pity you're the only person in the history of the world who ever had this problem." Then the monk quoted to me from the Bhagavad Gita, the most sacred ancient test of Yoga: "Oh Krishna, the mind is restless, turbulent, strong and unyielding. I consider it as difficult to subdue as the wind."
Meditation is both the anchor and the wings of Yoga. Meditation is the way. There's a difference between meditation and prayer, though both practices seek communion with the divine. I've heard it said that prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is the act of listening. Take a wild guess as to which comes easier for me. I can prattle away to God about all my feelings and my problems all the livelong day, but when it comes time to descend into silence and
listen, well, that's a different story. When I ask my mind to rest in stillness, it is astonishing how quickly it will turn (1) bored, (2) angry,
(3) depressed, (4) anxious, or (5) all of the above.
Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind" - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but -
whoop! - how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.
The other problem with all this swinging through the vines of thought is that you are never where you
are. You are always digging in the past or poking at the future, but rarely do you rest in this moment. It's something like the habit of my dear friend Susan, who - whenever she sees
a beautiful place - exclaims in near panic, "It's so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!" and it takes all of my persuasive powers to try to convince her that she is
already here. If you're looking for union with the divine this kind of forward/backward whirling is a problem. There's a reason they call God a
presence - because God is right here, right now. In the present is the only place to find Him, and now is the only time.
But to stay in the present moment requires dedicated one-pointed focus. Different meditation techniques teach one-pointedness in different ways - for instance, by focusing your eyes on a single point of light, or by observing the rise and fall of your breath. My Guru teaches meditation with the help of a mantra, sacred words or syllables to be repeated in a focused manner. Mantra has a dual function. For one thing, it gives the mind something to do. It's as if you've given the monkey a pile of 10,000 buttons and said, "Move these buttons, one at a time, into a new pile." This is a considerably easier task for the monkey than if you just plopped him in a corner and asked him not to move. The other purpose of mantra is to transport you to another state, rowboatlike, through the choppy waves of the mind. Whenever your attention gets pulled into a cross-current of thought, just return to the mantra, climb back into the boat, and keep going.
-- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love