Meditation is a fight. As soon as you begin meditation, other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to overwhelm the single thought to which you try to hold. This thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. When it has grown strong, the other thoughts will be put to flight. This is the battle always going on in meditation.
But meditation is catching on in the mainstream. Chopra and Oprah conduct workshops. The Navy Seals train the mind. Georgetown University has set up a program to help military trainees blunt their reaction to stressors. It is called Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, or “M-fit,” and students learn how to focus intently and stay present in the moment. The goal of such exercises is to teach people to pay nonjudgmental attention to exactly what they’re feeling in the moment. Not trying to change anything, just giving it (feelings, stimuli, other stressors) your attention. By monitoring your feelings without judgment, say the researchers, you achieve detachment from them, which allows you to soldier through difficult moments without letting discomfort disrupt your focus.
This is what the sages have known for millennia and what the scriptures have laid out for even longer. And now modern society, some circles at least, is coming full circle. If you are or have been an athlete, you know the feeling of being “in the zone,” that place of total focus in which you’re completely present.
Consider distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who achieved a goal she’d been chasing for more than 35 years when at age 64 she swam from Cuba to Florida, 110 miles, without a shark cage to protect her. During the 53-hour swim, she paddled through jellyfish, swallowed saltwater and suffered the chill, finding reaching the shore barely able to speak.
How did she do it? “I steel myself, over months and years of training, that absolutely nothing will stop me,” she told reporters. “Your mind begins to have an unconscious set.” She went onto explain the mental exercises she’d perform, counting in various languages, singing hit tunes. These are similar to the concentration practices required by some meditation techniques. The purpose: to train the mind to focus, so that thoughts will subside, and stillness, the true nature of consciousness, can shine in its self-luminous light, fully revealed.
Nyad’s first words as she staggered onto the beach at Key West, slurring her words through swollen lips: “We should never, ever give up.”