A restless mind is a common and ancient problem for meditators. If you also have this problem, know, my friend, that you are not alone.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krishna, “Owing to my restlessness I’ve achieved no lasting results in the attempts You’ve taught me to steady the mind. Verily the mind is restless, tumultuous, madly stubborn! O, Krishna, I consider it to be as difficult to master as the wind!”
We should, of course, strive to calm our thoughts during meditation, but lest we think that a completely still mind is the only doorway to higher states of consciousness, we have this comforting example from Autobiography of a Yogi:
“A few mornings later I [Yogananda] made my way to Master’s empty sitting room. I planned to meditate, but my laudable purpose was unshared by disobedient thoughts. They scattered like birds before the hunter.” Just a few moments later his guru granted him his first great experience of cosmic consciousness.
Difficult though controlling the mind might seem, there are several things we can do to help reduce restless thoughts. The first and most important requirement, however, is that we want to quiet our minds. Without this “laudable purpose” you will achieve little. As you begin your meditation, you need to make a conscious decision to be still. The first few minutes are particularly important, so resolutely push aside any restless thoughts or desires. Then use meditation techniques, especially those of pranayama, to withdraw the life force into the spine and channel it toward the spiritual eye. As the prana withdraws, the mind will naturally become calmer.
Here is an apt analogy: When a mahout takes his elephant through a village market it can cause havoc, stealing some bananas from one stall, some oranges from the next. But the wise driver has a trick up his sleeve. He trains the elephant to take a short piece of bamboo in his trunk and proudly hold it high.. This, of course, keeps his trunk out of mischief.
The major senses of touch, sight, and hearing are our uncontrolled elephants, and meditation techniques are meant, in part, to give them a piece of bamboo on which to focus.
The central techniques of Yogananda’s path are ones of pranayama, especially Hong-Sau, where we try to feel each inhalation and exhalation and accompany them with the mantra Hong-Sau. Even as a child, Yogananda would practice this for hours at a time until he went breathless. Similar techniques of observing the breath form the foundation of nearly every path of meditation, including mindfulness.
The breath becomes our piece of bamboo. By focusing on it the mind and senses turn inward and the mind begins to calm. Likewise, looking into the light of the spiritual eye turns the sense of sight inward, and the same is true for hearing when listening to the sound of AUM.
Here, then, is one of the most effective way to calm the mind in meditation: Whenever you become aware that your mind is restless, return it gently but firmly to its inner home by observing the breath, looking into the spiritual eye, or listening to AUM. If you make this a habit, you will take a giant leap in taming your mind.
This practice also works in the marketplace of daily life. When your thoughts become upset or your emotions agitated, take a few deep breaths, focus briefly at the spiritual eye, or listen to the inner sounds.
As Yogananda wrote, “Remain ever calm within. Be even-minded. When working be calmly active. Someday you will know yourself to be subject no longer to the tides of Destiny. Your strength will come from within; you will not depend on outer incentives of any kind for motivation.”
In joy and peace,
Listen to Jyotish as he reads the blog, then expands on it, often adding special behind-the-inspiration stories and answers to common spiritual questions. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (10:05):
I have been trying Hong Sau technique for quite some now but i am not able to make out when it comes in and when it goes out and my head becomes heavy in trying to feel it . Ultimately i get stressed instead of calmed while doing it.
I am 100 percent agree with you
Thank you for such wonderful advice.
And the throw back photo is a gem. 💕🌺
Thank you so much for the trick.
As everybody, our mind also need a stick to control.
This controlling stick is with us for ever.
We are due to the breath and same is a controller for the mind.
Great. Wonderful and thank you.
Thank you for these beautiful and insightful words Jyotish. Gems to grow by.
Thank you Jyotish , I’ll do it like you say
Thank you so very much! One of the tasks on my list for this morning was to contact a company about some problems I was having. The company opens their phone line at 5am. Upon waking this morning, I felt prompted by Master to make the call before settling into my meditation. I was quickly (oh my gosh!) able to speak to a live person and my issue was resolved quickly. This had me in my emails so I saw this from you. What a perfect and helpful message to receive before heading to my meditation. I feel energized and renewed in my efforts. Thank you Master for your ever-wise guidance in even the smallest moments of our day!
P.S. Treasured the photos!
Thanks for the wonderful information. I don’t know when and whether I will be able to do this in a regular pattern. But, just reading this article makes me calm. Sometimes words can do the magic.
Thank you so much for such a wonderful reminder very grateful to have you 🙏
Very helpful and profound teaching about the restless mind.
Thank you very much,
I hope this process will help all .
Thanks you for this lovely help. I chant “Be still my mind and know that I am God’ several times when my mind is too busy! My God is the Universe, not the God or organized religions.
Thank you so very much for this uplifting and encouraging writing! I felt it resonate completely within my being, as though it was written just for me! It clearly touched upon the challenges I have been facing with my meditation practice. Moving forward, I will take this information with me in my heart as I continue my practice, to remind myself to hold my bamboo stick and feel confident my path is my own, and all is truly well in the stage of my self realization.
This is of immense help. Just to add a bit of my own understanding as I gather from various other sources in the path of spirituality are this:
• This ‘I’ as we know is the body. So is the mind. These will go. It is next to impossible to know the name of the great grandfather of my grand father. But the truth is, ‘I’ would have come into being unless that person came. Similarly, 400 years from now if someone asks who this present ‘I’ am, it would be answered in a similar way as the present ‘I’ made. So what to conclude from this? Try to reach that permanent being inside of us, of everyone.
• All that is happening as we perceive (even our perceptions, too) are divine. All evil things, noble things are actually divine. We only label them “good” or “bad”. There is nothing that “I” does. Take breathing for example. Breathing starts from the instant this body is landed as a new born and continues till the last moment. It is foolish to say “I am breathing”. As we associate this “I” feeling in everything we do, just think about a time when we are in deep sleep. We are totally unconscious then. No will power. No actions are done in this Universe just all by themselves. Some agent is behind every action. Who then does the breathing, circulating blood through our heart and keeps lungs active? Certainly not this “I”!
I hope you’ll all benefit by it.
I’m still trying.
Dear Nayaswami Jyotish Ji,
Thank you for this wonderful blog.
Very useful tips and guidelines.
The analogy is very helpful.
Jai Guru, thank you. It has been nice reminder and very well explained through bamboo stick with elephant, I will not forget it now