I hear a lot of Americans say that they are unable to meditate, because they just can't empty their minds or think about nothing. You'll be pleased to know that according to the book, An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama, that complete emptiness of the mind is not necessary to practice meditation. There are a total of 9 stages of calm abiding. I assure that the monk, although an avid meditator, was not completely undistracted when we entered the prayer room with our friend. He did appear to quickly regain his concentration and proceed with his meditation (but even he wasn't "perfect" - what a relief).
Stage 1 - Placement
During this stage, the meditator practices placing his/her concentration on an object. Frequent distractions occur, and regaining focus requires great effort. The idea is to become aware of that the mind has wandered, notice it without judgement, and continue the mediation. Isn't great that the distracted meditator is at the first stage, and not unable to mediate! Everyone starts somewhere.
Stage 2: Continual Placement
During stage 2, the meditator may be able to continually place his/her mind on a chosen object of meditation for a few minutes at a time. The mind is still distracted frequently, and the periods of distraction are still longer than the moments of focused mental stillness. Again, notice the mind wandering and bring it back to the meditation without judgement.
Stage 3: Re-placement
During Stage 3, the meditator is able to immediately catch distraction of the mind, and quickly regain it's focus.
Stage 4: Close Placement
During this stage, the meditator may be able to complete an entire meditation session without the mind becoming distracted. There is still the possibility of excitement or laxity during this stage.
Stage 5: Disciplining
During this stage, the meditator has achieved a calm, focused mind and becomes aware of more subtle dullness or laxity.
Stage 6: Pacification
During this stage, laxity no longer arises, and one's attention may be directed to subtle excitement. Great inward focus is necessary at this stage.
Stage 7: Fully Pacified Attention
The mind rarely experiences excitement or dullness, and it becomes easy to pacify and refocus.
Stage 8: Single Pointed Attention
The meditator can now easily be focused on an object without the slightest experience of dullness or excitation. How many of us thought that this was a requirement to be a "good mediatator"? In reality, it would take thousands of hours of practice to ever have the hope of reaching this level. Even so, every stage of mediatation is highly beneficial.
Stage 9: Balanced Placement
The meditator can now focus on an object effortlessly for as long as he/she desires.
It is important for a meditator to avoid judgement of his/her ability to meditate. Even the monk was obviously affected by the parade of Americans entering his meditation space, that doesn't make him bad at meditation.
My meditation practice may never reach stage 3 or 4, but it is still beneficial. I notice that I am generally happier, less reactive, and able to focus more easily during my daily life. I am less judgemental and more aware of myself and others the more consistant my meditation practice becomes. My personal practice currently includes a few rounds of Japa Meditation followed by seated meditation. I'm aiming for 20-40 minutes daily, in one or more sessions.
I urge you to commit to daily meditation without judgement. Break it up into a few small sessions, or all at once. Make it a priority in your life. You may find yourself happier, healthier, and less stressed. If you are new to meditation or just want guidance, The Simply Being App is helpful and available on itunes. There are also guided meditations available for streaming on You Tube and Yogaglo, as well as a number of other meditation websites. Happy sitting!
Namaste - Beth