It’s Like Herding Cats

Minds like to wander.  They do.  And they are hard to rein in, because even if you get the alpha mind headed in the right direction, suddenly you realize that the beta mind is off in the corner thinking about something completely different.  So, you head over and nip at its heels until it comes in line.  And… then you notice that now you are thinking HARD about what you are or are not thinking about and how short your attention span is and how hard it is to stop thinking – and you’ve completely forgotten to meditate or breathe.

I’ve been really trying to work on this lately during meditative yoga poses and during Savasana.  Sometimes, I feel like it’s working, and other times I get part way through and realize that I am so busy thinking about how hard I need to try not to think that I haven’t really even begun to meditate.  Or, I notice that my “back mind” has been sneaking around planning dinner or writing a blog post (ahem) while my “front mind” is trying to cooperate.

What to do, what to do?  Nothing.  And that’s the catch, isn’t it?  We aren’t very good at doing nothing.  Our minds aren’t very good at doing nothing.  Busy! Busy! Busy!  I don’t actually think it’s a lack of attention – I think it’s more that we cannot stop attending to all the things we have going on long enough to be in the moment.

So, here’s what I’m trying now – we’ll see if it works!  First, at this moment, concentrating on breathing is just not working for me.  My brain wants to be busier than that.  So, I need a mantra.  Sometimes it’s extremely simple, like “be here now.”  Sometimes it’s a little more complex (last week in yin it was “I release stress; I release anger;  I cultivate happiness; I cultivate peace”).  If the surroundings or my physical position are more distracting, like in yin poses that I find very uncomfortable and even painful if I think about the physical sensations too much, then I go for a more complex mantra.  For Savasana, I tend toward something simple.  Second, I made a very unfancy set of mala beads (in bracelet form for easy portability) to bring with me when I’m meditating or doing yin.  I gave it a trial run last week with a crochet row counting bracelet that I had recently made, and I liked it.  So, that’s another tactic I’m going to work with for now.  And last, I’m really really going to try to stop berating myself for thinking when I’m trying not to be thinking, because then the judging becomes its own thinking, which increases the self-critique and so on in an infinite cycle.

Now, if you’ve ever seen a dog actually try to herd cats – and I have – you know that it’s one thing to have a plan and a strategy and it’s quite another thing to actually end up with the cats where you want them.  And I’m pretty sure my dogs’ frustration strategy, which consists of running up and barking in the cat’s face, won’t really work with my thoughts, so I’ll have to do what I can.

Nameste,

L

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2 Responses to It’s Like Herding Cats

  1. Erik says:

    Mindfulness meditation is moment to moment, non-judgemental awareness. It’s easier to remember the ‘moment to moment’, and the ‘awareness’ components. It’s more difficult to remember the ‘non-judgemental’ component.

    If you find your mind drifting away, note that this is happening, then gently, non-judgementally, bring your attention back to the present, to the breath, to the mantra, or the moment.

    Having the mind drift does not make you a bad yogi or meditator. It makes you human. Meditation is very simple, but not easy. It’s a practice, just like yoga asana. We don’t expect perfection in asana – we should not expect it in meditation either.

  2. Yanti Amos says:

    Love your blog, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Not always easy to distill both passing and other more important thoughts in a coherent, thought-provoking way. You manage to do it though (and more) ! 🙂

    I relate to your herding cats analogy!
    I have recently started a course in Sanskrit chanting and the mantra I have been learning have allowed me to rest and observe my thoughts rather than go crazy with thought-shepherding. Often one pada (line) from a mantra is all it takes.
    In gratitude,
    Y

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