I try to find peace through meditation, but whenever I practice my mind jumps all over the place and I can’t make it be quiet.

If you try to quiet your mind then of course it will dominate, because you’re trying to quiet your mind, which is just another form of chasing after it. Don’t worry about whether your mind is noisy or quiet, just do your practice — counting your breaths, mantra, great question, whatever your practice is…. Do your practice with a noisy mind. Do your practice with a quiet mind. Doesn’t matter. Just keep doing your practice. Do your practice and stick to the same practice. Don’t jump around from practice to practice. For days, weeks, months, years. Sure your mind will jump around. Just don’t follow it. On its own, your mind will start to quiet down. It will start up again. It always does. But you don’t have to follow it. That’s the point.

 

It’s exactly in the exercise of not checking the quality of our mind — is it noisy? is it quiet? — not getting trapped by our thoughts, it’s in the exercise of just doing our practice, that we have an opportunity to discover our true self, our true nature, which is more fundamental than all that activity in our frontal lobes.

When I first started practicing it felt really good, but sometimes now it’s hard. Does it have to be that way?

Sitting meditation, the heart of Zen practice, can be pleasant and refreshing at first and in short stints. In the long haul, the many hours of sitting in an intensive retreat and of many retreats over many years, the practice is undeniably austere. It is so by design and necessity. The direction of our practice is not to make us feel good but to bring us face to face with what we really are, and this can only be done by cutting through the layers of self, layers stronger than cast iron set in concrete, that our unremitting desire to feel good has created. This is hard work, hard enough and sometimes dry and tasteless enough, that we want to quit. But it is the only way, and in our deepest consciousness we know it, know that hard training is the only way to break through the wall of the self.