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Alan Watts taught me the “trick” to meditation (and how most of us get it wrong)

Have you ever tried to meditate?

If so, you’ve probably tried to focus on your breath, or repeat a mantra.

This is how I was taught to meditate, and it lead me down the completely wrong path.

Instead, I learned a simple “trick” from Alan Watts. He helped to demystify the experience and now it’s so much easier.

From meditating in this new way, I discovered that focusing on my breath and repeating a mantra affected my ability to achieve true peace and enlightenment.

I’ll first explain why this was the wrong way for me to meditate and then will share the trick I learned from Alan Watts.

Why focusing on breath and repeating a mantra didn’t help me to meditate

I should clarify that while this approach to meditation didn’t help me, you may have a different experience.

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Once I learned this trick by Alan Watts, I was then able to experience my breath in ways that put me in a meditative state. Mantras also became more effective.

The problem was this:

By focusing on the breath and repeating a mantra, meditation became a “doing” activity for me. It was a task that required focus.

Meditation is meant to happen spontaneously. It comes from remaining unoccupied with thoughts and from just experiencing the present moment.

The key point is to experience this moment without thinking about it. However, when I began meditating with the task in mind to focus on my breath or repeat a mantra, I had a focus. I was thinking about the experience.

I wondered whether this was “it”, whether I was doing it “right”.

By approaching meditation from the perspective shared by Alan Watts below, I wasn’t so focused on doing anything. It transformed from a “doing” task to a “being” experience.

Alan Watts’ approach to meditation

Check out the video below where Alan Watts explains his approach. If you don’t have time to watch it, I’ve summarized it below.

Watts understands the challenge of placing too much meaning on meditation and recommends beginning by simply listening.

Close your eyes and allow yourself to hear all the sounds that are going on around you. Listen to the general hum and buzz of the world the same way that you listen to music. Don’t try to identify the sounds that you’re hearing. Don’t put names on them. Simply allow the sounds to play with your eardrums.

Let your ears hear whatever they want to hear, without letting your mind judge the sounds and guide the experience.

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As you pursue this experiment you will find that naturally find that you’re labeling the sounds, giving meaning to them. That’s fine and completely normal. It happens automatically.

However, over time you’ll end up experiencing the sounds in a different way. As the sounds come into your head, you’ll be listening to them without judgment. They’ll be part of the general noise. You can’t control the sounds. You can’t stop someone from coughing or sneezing around you.

Now, it’s time to do the same with your breath. Notice that while you’ve been allowing the sounds to enter your brain, your body has been breathing naturally. It’s not your “task” to breathe.

While being aware of your breath, see if you can start breathing more deeply without putting effort into it. Over time, it just happens.

The key insight is this:

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Noises happen naturally. So does your breathing. Now it’s time to apply these insights to your thoughts.

During this time thoughts have entered your mind like the chattering noises outside your window. Don’t try to control your thoughts. Rather, let them continue to chatter away like noises without passing judgment and giving them meaning.

Thoughts are just happening. They’ll always happen. Observe them and let them go.

Over time, the outside world and the inside world come together. Everything is simply happening and you’re just observing it.

(Want to learn to meditate the way Buddhists do? Check out the eBook by Lachlan Brown: The No-Nonsense Guide To Buddhism And Eastern Philosophy. There’s a chapter devoted to teaching you how to meditate.)

The “trick” to meditation

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Here’s what I learned about this approach to meditation.

Meditation is not something to “do” or focus on. Rather, the key point is to simply experience the present moment without judgment.

I’ve found that beginning with a focus on breathing or mantras set me down the wrong path. I was always judging myself and that took me away from a deeper experience of a meditative state.

It put me in a thinking state.

Now, when I meditate I let the sounds enter my head. I just enjoy the sounds passing through. I do the same with my thoughts. I don’t get too attached to them.

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The results have been profound. I hope you’ll have a similar experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about how I apply some of the teachings of Alan Watts to living life in the modern age, check out my free salon: The Hidden Trap of Trying to “Improve Yourself” (and What to Do Instead).

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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