Meditation Isn’t about Having a Silent Mind

My early years of meditation (twenty odd years ago now) were fraught with misconceptions.

I believed meditation would not only be a way for me to discover the true nature of Reality, the true nature of myself, but that it would somehow shut down my monkey mind permanently. End all psychological suffering. Some called it spiritual awakening, liberation, enlightenment, heaven on earth. If the Buddha could do it, why not me?

Why. Not. Me, Me, Me.

Excited about the promise of one day living in perfect calm and shooting laser beams from my third eye, I sat down in silence every day (er, most days?)…

Only to toss meditation into the recycling bin a few years later. No one can permanently quiet the mind, I concluded. Not me, not you, not anyone. The people who say they can are not telling the truth.

Did I feel profound bouts of stillness, lovely ecstatic states, a calmer nervous system, and touch into the Real Unconditioned Me? For sure. But I was never able to stop thoughts from rising. More importantly, sitting in silence, no matter how long, didn’t seem to translate into less suffering in real life. I could easily leave an hour-long meditation session and find myself stressed out two minutes later, like the people who leave Sunday mass only to honk and flip each other off in the parking lot on the way out.

(Of course, I was missing the point of meditation, which is to realize there is no meditator, but most of us seekers miss that because we are too busy seeking. This is why the masters say: wake up to what you are first, then meditate. Awaken, then do practices.)

Anyway, momma didn’t raise no quitter, so there was only one thing left to do: swap meditation for a variety of other spiritual rituals and teachings and keep on trekking.

Only I found these practices equally fruitless in terms of delivering the kind of peace I was after.

More years, and more practices, later, it finally dawned on me: the point of meditation, or any spiritual practice, isn’t to shut down the mind but to see the futility of trying to do so. The point is to get the illusion, the FAIL, the futility, of a “me” trying to find peace by manipulating or rearranging so-called external circumstances. The point is to twig the futility of believing happiness can be found by controlling, changing, or grasping onto, whatever happens to show up on the life TV, whether it be wanted or unwanted emotions, wanted or unwanted thoughts, wanted or unwanted people, wanted or unwanted situations. The point is to realize that the awareness that’s aware-ing all of this IS what you are, which is the very same energy as the rising thoughts themselves. Call it what you will: freedom, peace, stillness, consciousness, awareness, THIS. And THIS doesn’t need twenty minutes a day to be what it already is. (Not to say meditation isn’t a helpful practice for overall well being, more on this later.)

In my case, the seeking of said peace, and not finding it, through a potluck of spiritual pursuits led me to the kind of surrender that needed to happen in order for me to realize what I was looking for was always right here, right now.

It’s the big cosmic joke!


And THIS, ultimately, was the shift in perception that greatly reduced my stress, psychological suffering, and quieted the mind, so to speak. For me, the end of the search meant seeing through the illusion that there was a separate “me” here doing a life “out there.” It was coming into the clear understanding that the movement of life, the interconnected flow of it — all of it — no matter what shape or form it happens to take, Zen or not Zen, is what we are. The energy, or impulse, of swerving to miss an oncoming car is no different from the energy, or impulse, of grass growing, a dog barking, thoughts rising, atoms splitting, these fingers typing, the sun shining, a horn blaring, tears falling. Life and all of its seemingly separate thoughts, sounds, sights, and sensations is one boundary-less ocean of flow. We seem to easily accept the fact that we can’t control a thunderstorm but we desperately want to believe there’s a “me” here who can, and should, control the rest of life. This misidentification of the egoic mini-me as searcher, doer, and controller causes tremendous suffering. At least, it did for me.

Maybe some are able to realize, and embody, this understanding through meditation by seeing they are the silent awareness within which thoughts, and all other phenomena, come and go. In my case, it was about experiencing the futility of trying to find freedom through meditation and other means that faceplanted me into the realization that it can’t be found this way, or any other way, because you can’t find what was never lost in the first place.

“If you want real control, drop the illusion of control. Let life live you. It does anyway.” ~ Byron Katie

“How do I integrate spirituality into my everyday life? Throw out the concept of ‘spiritual life’ and ‘everyday life.’ There is only one life, undivided and whole.” ~Adyashanti

Author’s footnote: I still meditate as a practice many days to connect into stillness and/or to down-regulate my nervous system during stressful times but it’s no longer something I do to find something I don’t already have. Life has taught me, over and over again, that life itself is the ongoing meditation. It points me to the places within myself where I may still be hooked into old narratives and not living the freedom that I am.



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Kathleen Branigan

Kathleen Branigan

Writer, coach, and laughter lover. I write about empowered living, creativity, travel, and wide-awakening for real humans.