The pull of the world tends to keep our minds scattered and diffused. As long as we make a habit of skipping from one activity to the next, from one train of thought to another, our restlessness prevents us from experiencing calmness, which is the doorway to true peace and happiness.
To overcome restlessness, we need to make a strong, conscious effort to focus our thoughts and actions. When undertaking a task, give it your full attention, putting all other activities or plans aside. With persistent, single-pointed mental focus comes deep calmness.
We had a friend who habitually did several things at once. She would eat a meal while talking on the phone and reading a book at the same time. It wasn’t until she contracted a life-threatening illness that she realised she was skimming restlessly over the surface of her life, without enjoying any of it. She saw that her restlessness was blocking her ability to feel joy.
After her recovery, she and her husband made several simple life changes. They began to slow down deliberately in order to experience whatever they were doing. We had lunch with them in a beautiful garden that they had created together. We could feel the peace and joy that they were now experiencing.
The more we develop the art of focused, conscious listening – to people, to music, to nature – the more we can hear and appreciate their subtle messages to us. The ability to enjoy the world around us by listening deeply is a stepping-stone to hearing the vibration of God in meditation.
Swami Kriyananda would stress the importance of finishing a job completely before moving on to the next. In every project, there are three stages: the initial inspiration, followed by the hard work of overcoming the problems involved, and finally, the joy of bringing the task to completion.
When initial inspiration fades, and challenges arise, it’s easy to abandon a project rather than exert the energy to push it to completion. We repeat this pattern until we discover that happiness and success come only with sustained concentration.
There is a similar pattern that we can easily fall into, in our meditation practice. At first, we are carried by the inspiration and joy of discovering the spiritual path. Often, new devotees are blessed with deep spiritual experiences and an ability to go deep in meditation.
Then we hit the middle phase when the hard work begins. This period can take many years, as we struggle with desires, attachments, and karmic tendencies that keep us from allowing Spirit to flow into our lives. And so we tend to get impatient and restless. This is why Paramhansa Yogananda said that the key to success in meditation is intensity and duration of effort. We must put forth the strong, deliberate effort that will bring us the reward of joy.
To get through the dry, restless periods on the path, it helps to bring fresh, creative approaches to our practice. For example, try chanting. Practice “walking meditation” in nature. Or incorporate time for yoga postures in your day. You might also enjoy a retreat in an inspiring environment.
Spiritual perseverance in the face of restlessness will ultimately lead us through the period of effort into the third stage of inner joy and fulfillment. When we expand our hearts, we get enabled to reach a high spiritual state.