There is a Hindu story comparing the mind to the trunk of an elephant – restless, inquisitive, always straying.
In India, elephants are sometimes taken in religious processions through the streets to the temple. The streets are crooked and narrow, lined on either side with fruit and vegetable stalls. Along comes the elephant with his restless trunk, and in one sinuous motion, he grabs a whole bunch of bananas. He opens his cavernous mouth, and tosses the bananas in – stalk and all. From the next stall he picks up a coconut and tosses it in after the bananas.
In meditation and silent prayer our minds are often just like that elephant’s trunk. Straying wildly and grabbing whatever passing thought it finds.
Here are things that people often say about meditation:
- I can’t stop my mind from wandering
- I get bored
- I fall asleep
- I get depressed
- I’m too busy
Are there solutions to these problems?
Yes. They take a bit of practice. Meditation can be relaxing and soothing – but most often it is not in the short term at least. If you are in need of relaxation and calming, then there are many guided meditation CDs and classes you can use – yoga classes will often be very helpful. All of these can be used together with Christian meditation.
Going back to that inquisitive and hungry elephant, no threats or promises can make that restless trunk settle down. But the wise elephant trainer will give his elephant a short bamboo stick to hold. Then the elephant will walk along proudly, holding the bamboo stick in front like a drum major with a baton. He doesn’t steal bananas and coconuts now, because his trunk has something to hold onto.
In meditation we use our breathing or a mantra (which is simply a word of phrase repeated silently), for our minds to ‘hold onto’.
No-one can stop the parade of thoughts, worries, concerns, physical feelings, twinges, etc. that are the constant backdrop to our lives. But, by repeatedly bringing our minds back to a simple breath prayer, or mantra, we can let these things go. The more we practice this in a peaceful time of our day or week, the easier it will become to find this peace at all times – even when we are facing many stresses.
What has this got to do with God?
In the babble of our constant thinking, there is often no room for God! We may think about God – but that often leads to questions of doubt and faith, and guilt and more to do lists…
God does not need us to think and plan and to be doing things all the time. We all know that a truly deep human relationship usually means being able to sit in silence with the other person – not fretting about what to say next.
This is how we can be with God.