Meditation is like building muscle, so it’s normal to be unfit and struggling to calm our thoughts in the beginning.
Our mind might try to convince us to use meditation as a brainstorming session; to ruminate on our problems, check the time, or finish early.
The less we let these impulsive thoughts influence us in meditation, the less they’ll rule us throughout the day.
I’ve found that it comes in phases: sometimes it’s easy to sit and focus, whereas other weeks can feel restless—but it’s persevering with the latter that can create some real transformation. The power of feeling an impulse and not acting on it, or seeing thoughts float by like objects in our meditation can help us to reverse old habits and beliefs.
I personally find it helpful to think of it as a bit of a game, where the objective is to reel my focus back, no matter how many times it’s pulled away by different thoughts. Looking at it this way lightens up the practice, which is important because it counters the tendency to get too serious—after all, meditation is supposed to lead to emotional independence, not a life of solemn navel gazing.
There are lots of meditation techniques available, but the one I’ve found helps me the most is an awareness meditation.
Since practicing this technique, my tendency to latch onto any thoughts that come up has diminished significantly, which has opened up more peaceful moments with less thinking. It’s also helped me notice habitual thinking patterns and look at them rationally and objectively, which reduces any hold my emotions have over me.
Here’s how it works:
Take a comfortable seat and begin counting your breath. It’s inevitable that thoughts will come up, so when they do, acknowledge them on purpose. We can say for example, “I’m aware that I was just thinking about what to have for breakfast,” or “I’m aware that I just spent the last five minutes thinking about all the work I have to do.” This nudges my conscious mind awake, so I remember to focus on the breath again.
I’ve found this works for two reasons.
First, it tricks the brain into bringing unconscious thoughts into the conscious mind. This works because the conscious mind activates when we use language. So, when we acknowledge the fact we’ve just had a thought, it awakens our conscious mind, which is our cue to then reel the attention back to the breath. I think of it like gently nudging my dog back on the course each time he goes off exploring for too long in the bushes.
Secondly, it’s a great way to practice self-kindness, as it stops creating more thoughts based on failure, such as: “I suck at meditating; it’s impossible to stop my thoughts.” Instead, it welcomes these thoughts as a tool for my meditation practice.
As they say, what we resist persists, so the less we resist our thoughts, the easier it is to calm them down. By objectifying the thoughts and emotions that drift by, we’re taking them less seriously. Thoughts that once felt heavy and loaded become light because we realize they are just “things,” like anything else.
For those not yet convinced, think of all the varying attitudes people can have about the same scenario. Two people with the same life circumstances could feel very different about their lot. As a bonus, the impact of this technique is that I am more compassionate toward myself, and therefore, to others. It also gives me a practice ground to get more and more used to the concept that thoughts really are just things.
Trialing this meditation practice for 10 minutes over 30 days is a good structure to begin with. Trialing one technique for a period of time also gives us a better idea of whether it’s been effective or not. If not, it’s time to try something different.
Another effective strategy is using a guided meditation, because it creates structure and encourages consistency while we get used to taming an unruly and distracted mind.
With perseverance, switching off from a persistent thinking mind and melting into the present moment might just become the highlight of your day.
Author: Ella Liascos
Images: Author’s Own; Lion Heart Vintage/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Taia Butler