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Episode 2 - Your Busy Mind is Not the Problem
In this episode, Craig explores what it really means to be “free from the mind” in meditation. You’re probably familiar with the idea that meditation is about going beyond the mind, but how do we actually do this? And why does it often seem so difficult?


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In This Episode…

“You don’t need to have a quiet mind to meditate. In fact, having a quiet mind really limits the potential of your meditation because meditation isn’t about just sitting in a still, calm, empty place. It’s a path for gaining insight into the nature of the mind — insight into the nature of reality.”

Craig shares three perspectives on one of of the most common confusions people encounter when starting a meditation practice—the misconception that the goal in meditation is to have a quiet mind.  Craig confronts us with the fact that the only reason we find it hard to let go of the mind is that we’re interested in what the mind is telling us. What if we became even more interested in what lies beyond the mind?

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Episode 2 Your Busy Mind is Not the Problem

Craig Hamilton: Spiritual awakening in its essence is about awakening to a part of our self that already exists, fully formed, a profound, sacred essence of our own being that is overflowing with extraordinary positive qualities. But this fundamental essence, this true nature, is beyond the busy mind. 

Discovering it requires us to make a leap beyond the mind. We will never think our way to it, and we will never be able to comprehend it with our busy mind. So learning to open to the immense depths of spiritual illumination and awakening inherently means being able to live in a way where we’re really no longer centered in the mind. 

Our primary reference point for life is no longer the mind. We’re no longer living in our mind. The mind still functions, thoughts still arise. We are still using that to navigate reality and discern, but it’s not our primary home. We’ve fallen out of the mind and into a vast infinite depth of consciousness that is sparkling and bursting forth with remarkable capacities and qualities, and all the gifts of our higher nature come from this. But it requires us to let go of the mind completely to begin to inhabit this deeper self, this deeper reality.

Again, not because the mind is a problem or in the way, it’s just the mind is a very small, little functional process relative to the vast processes of our awakened nature. So, in spiritual awakening and transformation, the mind needs to take its rightful place in the hierarchy, and it’s not super high for us. For most human beings it’s the top. Our mind and our emotions, depending on the person, are the two primary ways of navigating—how I feel emotionally and what I think conceptually.


Spiritual Awakening Requires Us to Leap Beyond the Busy Mind

Spiritual awakening is about awakening to something far beyond those two sources of knowledge and information. They both become optimized. Thought and feeling become functional and optimized by awakening, but they’re now just tools, functions, processes at the service of a great mystery that has its own agenda, so to speak, that has its own attunement to something that’s possible and trying to come forth. 

Spiritual awakening requires us to leap beyond the busy mind to make room for this higher potential, and when we do, what opens up is a way of living where we are constantly leaving behind the need to know. 

We’re living out in front of that desperate need for certainty, that need for security, that rigidity of the mind; labeling things and trying to predict what’s going to happen in advance, and trying to hold onto as much knowledge as possible, to create a story. That movement might still be going on, but we are learning how to live in a way that’s moving at a higher frequency, or faster than all that. Living freely, spontaneously, and leaning forward out on the edge of our life, not ensnared back in the mind’s attempts to figure it all out.


Unleashing The Power Of Profound Trust

It’s a kind of profound trust that we’re living in as an awakened person. It’s not a blind, naive trust in some higher power that’s making decisions and pulling the strings of our lives. It’s not a trust in some power, it’s a trust that whatever we need to meet each moment will show up in that moment if we leap. 

So we’re in a constant leap, or a constant free fall out at the edge of the moment as the next moment’s emerging, meeting it, fully awake, present, here. That’s where the power comes from, that’s where the capacities come from. Again, not from some mysterious source, but from our willingness to trust that they’re there and to show up in such a way that these capacities can manifest in deep intuition, spontaneous wisdom, profound love, and a profound care for the higher potential of the moment and a sensitivity to the field and what’s needed, creativity and all of these things come because we’ve leapt beyond the mind and we’re willing to live beyond the mind. 

The mind is also there working and contributing, and helping to do very specific things like discern, evaluate, and interpret. It’s still doing all that, but it’s not the primary activity anymore, it’s just a service activity. It’s being provided by this mental unit, the conceptual unit, that is serving this function and performing this service for the whole. But the whole optimized human is functioning at a whole different level, with all of these different capacities and functions unleashed. 


Your Monkey Mind is Not an Obstacle to Meditation

Many of us who take up a meditation practice experience the mind as this great obstacle. It’s one of the most common questions I hear as a meditation teacher, well, but my mind. It’s always some version of, but okay, there’s this meditation instruction. I’m trying to meditate but there’s my mind, and it’s in my way. It’s cascading thoughts, or it’s going in all directions, or whatever. But my mind is an obstacle to my meditation.

I’m going to invite you to consider that your busy mind is not the problem, and the mind is not an obstacle to your meditation. You don’t need to have a quiet mind to meditate. In fact, having a quiet mind really limits the potential of your meditation because meditation isn’t about just sitting in a still, calm, empty place. That doesn’t really do much for us as human beings. It feels good for a little while, the relief of having no thoughts, but meditation understood as a path of awakening means it’s a path of gaining insight into the nature of the mind and insight into the nature of reality. 


Gaining Liberation From The Mind

It’s about gaining liberation from the mind, which means liberation with the mind, meaning even if the mind is here, I’m free from it. My mind can be doing whatever it wants. I’m not engaging with it. I’m not compulsively reacting to it. I’m free from the mind. 

The mind can do what it’s meant to do. It can do whatever it wants to do. I am no longer glued to it. I’m no longer addicted to it. I’m no longer fascinated by it. I’m no longer dependent on it or attached to it. Thoughts come and go. I don’t come and go with them. I’m free from the mind. And that then, of course, unfolds into life in the form of a very different orientation to the mind which can flow from that. 

Once we’ve mastered that in meditation and attained that level of freedom from the mind in meditation, then it will naturally flow into our lives. We don’t need to try to be free of our mind in life, we will be because we’ve discovered we’re not the mind. We’ve discovered this greater reality beyond the mind and taken up residence there.


How Can You Meditate When Your Mind Won’t Stop?

Many of us have been taught that the goal of meditation is to have a quiet mind, free from thoughts. Yet in our actual experience of meditation, we often encounter a busy, active mind that doesn’t want to calm down. 

In this next segment, Craig answers one of our listeners’ questions on this topic, and asks you to consider the radical possibility that your mind has never been an obstacle to your meditation.

Susan in Hamilton, Ontario said, “Despite meditating for years, I still have difficulty separating myself from my mind. I can find stillness, but not if my mind is busy. I understand and believe the concept that I’m not my mind, but I can’t seem to do the gymnastics of watching my busy mind from a still place that is not my mind. Any suggestions or thoughts? Thank you.” 

Yes, I have a suggestion and I empathize with your challenge. A lot of people do. Let’s just put it this way. Coming at this in a certain way, this being awakening, and this being you, a human being, exploring spiritual practice, from a certain vantage point, it really seems that the busy mind is an obstacle to our inner freedom and awakening. 

It really seems like we couldn’t possibly be content, we couldn’t possibly find inner peace, we couldn’t discover the spaciousness and depth that’s beyond the mind as long as our mind is active and busy. It seems that way. I’m just acknowledging that’s how you’re experiencing it, and from a certain way of coming at this, this place and consciousness, that’s exactly how it seems. 

So a lot of us can relate to you, we say, oh, yeah, right. Totally. How can I possibly get into this deep stillness, this profound wholeness, this depth if this mind is busy? 

Now, the reason it seems this way is that most of us have spent our entire life with our attention completely riveted to the mind. We are used to focusing on the mind, wherever the mind goes, that’s where our attention goes. We can’t really see beyond the mind because the mind is wrapped around your whole face, and in your head, and you can’t possibly see beyond it. So unless it calms down, there is no beyond it. There’s only the mind. 


You Don’t Need a Quiet Mind to Experience Spiritual Depth

We try to do practices to calm our mind down, so that we can find something beyond the mind, and all of that seems reasonable, and all that can be how it actually shows up in our meditation.

Then you describe trying to do what you feel are gymnastics, which you’re calling “watching your busy mind from some still place that’s not your mind.” So, here’s the good news, Susan. At least in this spiritual teaching here, what I call the Practice of Direct Awakening, I’m never going to ask you to do what you just said. I’m never going to ask you to do those gymnastics. 

I know some people do practices like that, where they try to get into a still place where they watch their busy mind. And there are teachings that encourage you to do that, but this isn’t one of them, and I’m not one of those teachers. I’m not your gymnastics teacher, even your mental one. 

I’ll let you just breathe a sigh of relief with me…let’s all do it together. Ahh, we don’t have to try to watch our mind from some still place that’s not our mind. 

So, what’s an alternative? One alternative is you’re just giving all of your attention to your busy mind. And now you have this other alternative, which you can’t seem to be able to do, which is sitting in some still place, watching your busy mind. I think that would be really hard, simply because if you’re watching your busy mind, watching it means giving it your attention. 

As soon as you’re giving your attention to your busy mind, what’s going to happen? Well, you’re just lost in your mind again. So, the idea that you’re going to some still place, watching your busy mind, well, the moment you’re watching it, you’re in it again, and probably it’s all happening. Let’s bring this into the context of this module. Which isn’t so much about the mind, it’s more about surrender, but we can apply it directly here. 

What would it mean to surrender in the face of your busy mind? To sit down in meditation, and surrender in relation to this busy mind. Now, earlier in this session I brought up as an example of a position of surrender, I brought up this Serenity Prayer, which says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change,” as a statement of surrender, accepting the things you can’t change. 


The Mind Isn’t You and You’re Not ‘Doing’ the Mind

Well, I’m going to say you can’t change your busy mind. That’s certainly your experience, too. You don’t seem to be able to change your busy mind, and you feel frustrated because you keep trying, and trying other things, or trying to be somewhere and look at your mind. But let’s all just for a moment, just practice surrendering in the face of whatever our mind is doing. 

So, that practice would be whether my mind is busy, whether it’s quiet, whether it’s sometimes busy, sometimes quiet…whether my mind is very creative, and it’s a ferment of frothing, great, wonderful, creative ideas, or it’s kind of negative and dark, self-critical or judgmental or anxious, or endlessly processing some event that happened, some interaction that was difficult. Whatever that mind is doing, what if you accept the things you cannot change? What if you just say, I’m in meditation now, I can’t change my mind.

Why can’t you change your busy mind? Because the mind isn’t you, and you’re not doing the mind. The mind is a conditioned process, it’s kind of a mechanical process. Its thoughts are triggered by events, they’re triggered by other thoughts, they’re triggered by sensations, they’re triggered by emotions that just recur naturally. 

Anyone who’s done a long meditation retreat of any kind starts to really see this after a while, you go oh, wow, the mind is just like a loop. It just runs and runs and runs, and the same old thoughts recur, and they’ll trigger those other thoughts, and oh, this thought is here now, I know what’s coming. Oh, sure enough, there’s the other one. It’s like a movie that’s playing. It’s not you. 

What if you could surrender to that in meditation? I don’t know, the mind, I can’t control it, can’t do anything about it. It’s busy right now, maybe it won’t be in a while. It’s up, it’s down, it’s here, it’s there. The content is one thing one minute, another thing the next minute. I surrender. Surrender, it’s an act of giving up, I give up. I give up. Give up what? Struggling against my mind, trying to do something with my mind. I give up the idea that there’s anything wrong with my mind. 


Surrender to Your Experience in This Moment

How about surrender to the idea that your mind is not an obstacle to enlightenment, to spiritual depth? That’s radical. That now means spiritual depth might be here, regardless of what my mind is doing. Awakened consciousness might already be here, independent of whatever is happening in my mind.

Surrender might even mean I’m losing interest in my mind. I’m just letting go of my mind. Let go of the mind. That doesn’t mean change your mind. Because here’s the thing. If you really start to realize the mind is just this conditioned, cyclical process, it’s not you, you’re not causing it…it’s not really in your way anyway…is it going to continue to be interesting to give your attention to it? Maybe not. 

Maybe our attention starts to kind of oh, there’s the mind, I’m not that interested in the mind. I’m more interested in what might be beyond the mind. Hmm, what’s that? You let your attention fall away from the mind, and start to fall into deeper and higher things, consciousness itself, the miracle of being present and awake in this moment, and alive. Meditation, what’s meditation? Where does it lead? 

Maybe I’ll fall into it and let it carry me somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just sit here, but at least just not try to change my mind or control it or do anything with it. The point is, the mind seems like an obstacle, and it seems like a problem to the degree that we think that it’s in the way, and that something about it needs to change.

So if you can surrender to your experience in this moment, which includes your experience of the mind, and radically accept whatever’s happening right now, including whatever your mind is doing, that might be all that’s needed. 

There’s really not anything else for us to do in meditation. Surrender, including to the mind. So why don’t you, Susan, explore that, experiment with that, and see where that goes? Hopefully somewhere very different than those mental gymnastics that you were finding so difficult.


The Key to Going Beyond the Mind

Many of us struggle with our minds in meditation, as though our mind is an entity that is intentionally trying to distract us from our practice. 

In our next segment, Craig invites us to consider that the only reason we find it hard to let go of the mind is that we’re interested in what the mind is telling us. He then explores what  it means to become more interested in what’s beyond the mind than in anything our mind could distract us with.

When people talk to me about what they find challenging about meditation, or what seems to be the biggest obstacle in meditation, the thing I hear most often is the mind, the busy mind is the obstacle to my meditation, my active mind, my monkey mind. I’m constantly analyzing things or processing things that have happened, and then I try to meditate, whatever kind of meditation it is, and I find I’m just constantly getting distracted by my mind. 

So, on the surface it can seem like meditation is this arduous, kind of effortful thing, where we are somehow supposed to sit still and hold back the tide of the mind, hold back the incredible force of thought, the stream of thought, and somehow keep it at bay while we give our attention to something else.


The Mind Doesn’t Actually Have Any Power

I know for many of us, that struggle seems like we don’t have the power. The habit energy of the mind is too strong. I don’t have it in me to resist that, so I get swept away by it every time. It can seem that way because it seems like there’s a power to the mind, and too much momentum to thought to not get swept away by it or caught up in it. 

But what if the mind didn’t actually have any power, even the power to capture our attention? What if the only reason we find the mind so irresistible is that we’re compulsively interested in what the mind is producing, and what the mind is dangling in front of our attention.

From one point of view, the mind doesn’t distract you, thought does not capture your attention, thought has no power at all, has no substance at all. The mind is just a kind of machine, generating code, and it’s just spinning out across the screen, let’s say, of your consciousness. The only reason it’s hard to not pay attention to it is because we want to pay attention to it. We’re interested in it. 


Why We’re So Interested in Our Thoughts

Whatever it is, something from our past that the busy mind brings up in our meditation, something that happened this week, an interaction with another person that we’re still unsettled about, or we wonder about how they responded or how we responded, and that catches our interest. We want to think about it because we are concerned about it and because we’re concerned about it—maybe it’s an important relationship, we feel unresolved, we feel some issues there—we want to use that time to think about it.

Another thing people sometimes ask about, particularly creative types, will say, well, sometimes I’m sitting in meditation, and then all of these great creative ideas come up. I’ve been trying to write a book, and suddenly the next chapter appears, fully written in my meditation. Or I’m trying to solve this engineering problem at work, and suddenly the answer is there, and it’s so engaging. Well, why is that engaging? Because this is really a problem you’re trying to solve in your life, it’s a creative challenge, and suddenly, there’s the answer or there’s the next step or there’s the next creative surge. How could we not want to then give that our attention and think about it? 

Those might be particularly charged examples, some interpersonal problem, or some creative challenge, but it can even just be the habitual tapes that run in the background of our minds. Thoughts about the self, self-critical thoughts, self-doubt, or a kind of social concern that runs in the background; what do people think of me, how did I do, how am I doing, am I doing okay, our evaluation of ourselves. Thoughts like that can be very compelling because there’s so much gravity to them, because our ego is concerned about the self, and so it latches on to those things.

What I’m really saying is, the mind is only distracting in meditation because we’re more interested in the mind than we are in what’s beyond the mind. That’s not a value judgment, that’s not an evaluative statement, because again, there’s a part of us that goes, oh, I guess I’m not interested in what’s behind the mind, I must not be a very spiritual person, you know? There are all these self-critical tapes that we’re going to use to reinforce their pattern. 

I’m saying this is true for all of us. This is the human condition. There’s a reason the world is the way it is, there’s a reason our lives and our minds and our experience of life is the way it is. It’s not personal, there’s a collective momentum to this. We, by and large, are much more interested in what the mind is offering us than this unknown, mysterious possibility of not being identified with the mind, of discovering who we are that’s not merely mind-created. This mysterious source of consciousness and this mysterious life energy that isn’t something you can put a concept on because it’s not something you can conceptualize.


As Our Interest Shifts, We Get More Captivated by What’s Beyond the Mind

I hope this is your experience as we start to get a taste of what’s beyond the mind, as we start to do spiritual practice or have a spiritual experience, we start to get glimpses and tastes of this life that’s not just embedded in thought, that’s not identified with the mind. We start to get more interested in that, we start to be more drawn to that. 

We aspire to let go of the mind, to discover this consciousness that’s not identified with and embedded in thought, this freedom, free consciousness that we are. So, our interest starts to shift from merely what’s in the mind to what might I discover that’s beyond the mind. 

As that interest shifts, as we get more and more captivated by what’s beyond the mind, we find those distractions seem to have less and less of a hold on us, less and less power to distract us. But you see, they don’t have less power. Our interest shifted. 

They never had any power, they never will have any power, but our interest in going beyond the mind can deepen and intensify, and the more we discover the miracle of life free from the conditioned mind, the more we want that, and the less interested we are in this conditioned, mechanical thought process. That’s one way of looking at what happens in meditation, and what I’m inviting you into in these practices; practicing being free from the mind, practicing not being identified with it, practicing not getting distracted by it.

I want to invite us all to just explore what it’s like to lose interest in the mind and cultivate interest in what’s beyond the mind by giving our attention over and over to consciousness beyond thought. Which is just consciousness itself, which is who you are right now. It’s the person hearing these words, doing this retreat. 

You’re not your mind, you’re not your thoughts, you’re the consciousness in which thoughts arise. I’m just inviting you to fall in love with that, to be interested in that more than just whatever the mind is producing.



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