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There’s a gentler, simpler approach to restlessness

by Andy Puddicombe

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Restlessness — that need for constant motion — is often one of the first things that people notice when they start sitting down to meditate. Your back is sore, your left eyebrow is suddenly inexplicably itchy, and suddenly, you remember that mile-long list of emails you urgently need to send.

But one of the things that we’re learning in meditation is that we don’t need to react to every single thought or feeling that occurs in our minds. Often when we experience a restless urge, whether it’s a thought, an itch or soreness, we just need to acknowledge it, and then we can start to let it go. Once we learn to do this, we start to see that the impulse to be constantly on the move is quite unnecessary.

The fact that we have to plan to sit down to meditate is so interesting. It reveals that our natural state is one in which we are constantly fidgeting, making adjustments to try to be more comfortable. In fact, modern life seems to be built around a desire to avoid discomfort at all costs. And not just physical discomfort, but also mental discomfort like boredom, loneliness and awkwardness. But the irony is that if we spend all our time trying to make adjustments so we don’t encounter any of these feelings, we are never going to experience any peace. If we’re always in a constant state of restless movement, all we’ll know is restlessness.

Meditation helps us to develop a more balanced mind, one that is not constantly swayed by the need to run away from or toward particular thoughts and feelings. We start to recognize that some thoughts and feelings may be more regular visitors than others, and some may be more pleasant, but in the end they are all alike. They’re just thoughts and feelings.

When we take a look back at life over the past year, it’s possible that we might be dissatisfied. We might start planning how we’ll be altogether different from here on out: We’ll get up earlier, exercise more, eat better and be kinder, better people. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having goals, but these too can very quickly become “destinations,” places that we’re striving to get to, so that we can be more comfortable. We’re back in that state of restlessness, believing that only a particular kind of movement will make us comfortable.

Ultimately, it will be more rewarding if we can learn to be at ease with what’s happening in the moment. And funnily enough, if we can approach life with a gentle and open mind, all of those other goals become a bit more attainable, too — not places we’re impatient to get to, but part of our lives, day-to-day and moment-to-moment.

So if you’re looking for a way to calm your mind and slow down, why not start meditating? You needn’t rush out to buy any kit or join a class. In fact, you needn’t go anywhere or do anything at all. All you have to do is sit still. Now doesn’t that sound like a bit of a relief?

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.