The Prodigal Mind

Looking back over my past year of twice-daily meditation, I had a lot of erroneous preconceived notions when I first started. Many of these seem to be pretty common. One of the biggest misconceptions is that of the goal of meditation being to “clear your mind”.

False: The Goal of Meditation is to Clear Your Mind

I think many, like I once did, suffer from some cartoon version of meditation in the imagination — picturing a “clear mind” (whatever that means!) and becoming frustrated and disillusioned when it doesn’t come easily. Or happen at all. Well, this is because that’s not what you are supposed to be doing. This is not the goal. This is not a goal of meditation at all.

What you are actually aiming for is to bring the focus of your awareness back to the mental object you are using for meditation — the breath, a mentally repeated mantra, etc. In fact, when your mind wanders from the object of focus, it should actually be seen as a gift, an opportunity to return the focus of your awareness. The wandering mind is what makes it possible to do meditation. If the focus of awareness does not drift from the breath, how can you bring it back to the breath?

Of course, you are not to willfully introduce a wandering mind, but neither should you work to exclude thoughts, or to push them away. They are little more than reminders to gently ease back to the object of focus. Seen this way, rather than being interpreted as reminders of ineffective technique, they are instead helpful little nudges to get back on the path.

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