Q: I keep having thoughts during my meditation. I'm trying really hard to concentrate but I keep drifting to thoughts. Does this mean I'm a failure at meditation?
A: No. It means you are alive! Having thoughts is normal. We have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day. Closing your eyes and meditating doesn't stop the thoughts. It simply helps you disconnect from them. As for concentrating, that could be a reason you are struggling. There is no need to concentrate or focus. Learning a meditation practice is something that is best done with guidance and routine.
Transcendental Stress Management does not involve mind-control or mental discipline; it is not concentration or eastern philosophy. You don't have to control your breathing or muscles. You don't even have to try to relax. You are learning a technique which facilitates a completely natural process: an ability which is ingrained in the nature of the mind.
TSM is often considered by students to be unique in the range and depth of its beneficial effects. By promoting deep physiological rest, reducing stress, decreasing mild high blood pressure and improving mental health, TSM is seen to be useful, for both mind and body.
By reducing stress and providing deep rest many experience noticeable benefits in terms of improving overall psychological health, and reducing substance abuse. Subjects practicing TSM rated their technique as personally useful and easy to practice in contrast to lower rates for the other techniques they might have learned.
Systems of meditation fall into one of two categories: concentration and contemplation/visualization.
Concentration involves effort - and effort will inevitably keep the mind lively and active away from it's deepest state of rest.
Contemplation, commonly referred to as visualization, on the other hand, involves thinking about something. One thought leads onto another, and again the mind remains active and restricted from diving deep.
An analogy will perhaps make this clear. The mind is like the ocean, with the busy, active everyday level of thinking on the surface, and quieter, more comprehensive more holistic and intuitive thoughts, feeling and wisdom towards the depths.
In this analogy, concentration would be akin to treading water (expending energy staying up on the surface), while contemplation would be swimming around on the surface (drifting from one active thought to another). TSM Meditation, in contrast, involves diving deep to the bottom of the ocean, experiencing the mind in its silent, wide-awake state. This is the source of all creativity, intelligence and happiness in the mind.
In selecting a method of meditation keep in mind that, while methods vary, we all want relaxation in the areas of anxiety reduction, physiological relaxation, self-actualization, improved psychological outcomes, and decreased use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. These benefits should be a natural result of meditation when practiced regularly.
As with the evaluation of any health program or technique, it would be useful to apply these two criteria:
The more that a program meets these criteria the more you can be sure that the program will live up to its claims. Practiced sitting comfortable in a chair for 15-20 minutes twice a day with the eyes closed, from the outside the person appears to be just resting. But inside the individual is using an effortless, easy to learn technique which allows the mind and body to come to a completely settled, restfully alert state. With regular practice the benefits become beautifully apparent.
When evaluating meditation programs it is much better to spend a little more money and learn a proven, time tested program from an experienced instructor, than it is to save a few dollars and learn something that is cheap and not as effective or enjoyable to practice as TSM.
When you quiet the mind and enter the silence of your own source, you experience a restful vacation from the things that don't necessarily serve you much of the time. The constant barrage of worrying, planning, rushing, and fretting that most of us deal with in heavy doses on a daily basis is the very thing that raises our stress levels to a point of compromising our immune function and overwhelming us mentally and emotionally. The societal expectations we have to produce and perform and to be successful at all things can, at times, take us to the breaking point physically, mentally, and emotionally. Being in a state of meditation allows you to transcend the distractions of thoughts, emotions, and physical pain. Meditation allows you to go beyond into a state of pure consciousness or being. It is in this state of pure being that you access your higher self and connect to a universal flow of knowing and intellect. Here we realize that we are human beings, not human thinkings.