ANDY PUDDICOMBE Co- creator of Headspace app
Learn to embrace a multitude of thoughts and feelings.
THE GIG Puddicombe, a former monk, spent 10 years learning to meditate. The L.A.based Brit clears up common misconceptions in “Comfort in Chaos.” PEACEFUL PURSUIT “Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind; it’s more about learning how to be comfortable with the mind no matter how distracted it is.”
When most people think about meditation, they imagine a clear, blank mind. That’s definitely what I thought it was. Before I quit university in England to spend 10 years in various parts of Asia studying meditation to become a Buddhist monk, I imagined that I would be sitting on a mountaintop feeling totally blissed out—that I would have no thoughts at all for many years. The reality is that it’s the nature of the mind to think, and we can’t control it. If we were able to control the brain and turn off our thoughts, there’d be no need for meditation. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to clear your mind, either. In fact, if you have an anxious thought, trying to clear it often makes you feel more anxious, which can be frustrating. And then you’re not just anxious—you’re also angry. And once you’re anxious and angry, there’s a good chance it’s going to make you sad. This happens all day, every day, in our minds. It may go on for just a few minutes, it may go on for the whole day or it may go on for weeks at a time.
Meditation is not about turning off thoughts or searching for a clearing; it’s about stepping back. It’s a way to help you let the thoughts pass by, like traffic on a busy street; what’s important is not getting caught up or stopped by those thoughts. So when a feeling or thought comes up, that’s okay. It comes, it goes and it doesn’t bother you—that’s the real sweet spot. You can’t operate in life with a clear mind all the time. Anyone can have peace of mind when they’re feeling calm and clear; meditation is about attaining a peaceful mind when it’s clouded with thoughts. Learning to be at ease even when the mind is busy is amazing. What tends to happen is this: The more you learn the behaviour of stepping back, the more the thoughts start to slow down naturally—and from there you’ll find a little bit of calm. When you’re calm, you get a bit of clarity, and clarity leads to more contentment. At that point, there’s usually more space in your mind. And when you’re less caught up in your own stuff, there’s more room for compassion for others. ■
Puddicombe is the co-creator of the meditation app Headspace. It’s available at headspace.com.