Dullness of mind is best handled by certain resoluteness.
Even advanced meditators routinely fall prey to the second most common defect in meditation, laziness. Laziness is of two types. Let us say that you have decided to meditate for 45 minutes every day. The first type of laziness makes you want to skip your meditation.
Your conscious mind gives you excuses because it does not enjoy being tamed, it wants to go its own way dragging you along. Purity of discipline is paramount in executing any plan, be it meditation or any other routine. The only way to encounter laziness of this type is to not listen to your mind. If you sit down and vow to meditate no matter what, your conscious mind will eventually understand that you are the master and that you have no plans of showing any laxity when it comes to following your discipline.
The second form of laziness is what we are concerned with over here. It is the one you encounter during your meditation. As you sit down to meditate, motionless, still in one posture, you enjoy the first few minutes.
In the beginning, you are aware of the restless nature of the conscious mind. You work hard to channelise your thoughts, you exert to concentrate and you try to stay focused. When you do that, you experience restlessness. Such restlessness may prompt you to move, engage in thoughts or abandon your session of meditation altogether.
The best way to overcome such restlessness is to relax at that point in time.
Goal of Lucid Meditation
As you relax, however, you run the risk of losing sharpness of the mind. Such relaxation, if unchecked, can lead to inertness, inattentiveness, stupor or torpor. Above all, it robs you of the clarity of your visualisation. A meditation that lacks lucidity is as good as sleeping. If you are meditating by way of mental visualisation for example, the image you were holding mentally dims and disappears.
If you are meditating on a mantra, it becomes a superficial exercise of just mentally chanting the mantra and you are no longer hearing it, let alone becoming one with it. Laziness during meditation can take the form of dullness of the mind or lethargy of the body. If your mind experiences dullness or sluggishness, the clarity of the object of meditation disappears.
A session of meditation that is not clear, crisp and lucid, will not allow you to experience even a relaxed state of mind, much less its natural one. You will get up from your meditation feeling quasi relaxed, the type you feel after a nap. Often an overwhelming number of meditators mistake that for good meditation.
Good meditation is not about putting your conscious mind to sleep, it is clearing it. Such clearing brings bliss and sublime sensations with it. If a meditator gets into the habit of meditating incorrectly without actively working towards clearing the hurdles, it becomes extremely hard to get rid of such flaws later on.
Lazy Mind: A Slow Elephant
A lazy mind in various meditational, yogic and tantric texts has been compared to the slow-moving elephant. The hurdle of dullness is as big as the elephant. It is for this reason that many meditational deities are shown holding a goad, the weapon used to prod an elephant. The esoteric meaning behind such an implementation is to always hold the goal of attentiveness and alertness to control the elephant of sluggishness.
What Causes Laziness in Meditation?
Imagine you are trying to move a big rock. You keep exerting your force. It is only natural that after a while you are going to feel exhausted and tired. Exactly the same thing happens with your mind. When you try hard to concentrate, and keep doing so even when you feel restless, there comes a time when you feel worn out and tired.
If you are not attentive at that time, you will slip into stupor at that very moment. Such dullness compromises your meditation. In every likelihood, presuming you are physically fit, you will experience restlessness before feeling lazy. If you can take corrective measures at the time of restlessness, it becomes relatively easy to overcome laziness.
Like an athlete who gradually builds his endurance, his physical strength raising his pain barrier, a good meditator steadily increases the duration of his meditation. At the peak of my own meditation practice, I used to meditate for a straight stretch of ten hours. It was not easy, but the results were astounding. I did not start sitting ten hours from day one, in fact, I started with multiple one hour sessions, gradually increasing them over the course of many years.
The moment you realise you are losing the sharpness of your meditation, you need to exert mentally. You must refresh your concentration, recalibrate your focus. If your laziness has resulted from physical exhaustion, you need to stop meditating. That can happen if your meditation sessions are longer than 90 minutes each, or if you had a particularly stressful and tiring day.
Under such circumstances, you should take a break, get up and inhale some fresh air, and resume your session. If you experience dullness as a result of mental exhaustion, something that can happen even after the first 20 minutes of your meditation, you must not get up and break your session. Instead, try to visualise a bright light, or focus on the enchanting aspects of your object of meditation while staying in the same posture.
Refresh and energise yourself without getting up or ending your meditation. Shift your attention elsewhere for the time being, but do not engage in thoughts that are not linked to your meditation. As you feel fresh again, relax and resume your original meditation. Balance is crucial. When you feel restless, relax; and, when you feel lazy, exert, concentrate.
Restlessness and dullness repeatedly interfere with your meditation. They almost take turns. You need alertness to identify and correct both flaws. Hold short but lucid sessions and gradually increase the duration. Learn to meditate flawlessly for short periods first. When you learn to harness laziness and check restlessness, you are bound to make remarkable progress on the path of meditation.
-Edited excerpts from 'A Million Thoughts' by Om Swami