16 Oct The Simple Art of Thinking and Meditating
In meditation you’re told to observe your thoughts, detach from them, and bring your awareness back to your point of focus in the present moment. So let’s break this down and have a look at how to make your thoughts work for you.
Observing Your Thoughts
Many people think that their thoughts are what they see in their mind. In reality it’s actually the voice in your head that talks to you. When you think about forgetting to send an email to someone, you don’t visualize yourself at the computer not sending the email. What happens is that you hear the words in your head ‘Damn I forgot to send John an email earlier. I’ve got to remember to send it later’. Your ‘thoughts’ are actually you talking to yourself and in meditation your first objective is to recognise that voice, note when it’s talking to you, and what it is saying. That is what is meant by ‘observing your thoughts’. Visualize yourself lifting out of body, looking on at your thoughts, and becoming aware of what they’re saying to you. You just observe your thoughts, become aware that you’re thinking, without judging or encouraging them.
Detaching From Your Thoughts
Detaching from your thoughts is the hardest step. First of all you need to understand that your thoughts are not you. They are simply products of your cognition: past experiences, future expectations, memories, feelings and emotions. None of these are actually the essence of you as an individual. They are not your inner true self, the core of who you are, without the bonds of experience or identification. This means that in the example above, you would simply respond to yourself ‘I will deal with the email after meditation is over. Now back to my point of focus’. You may for instance hear drilling outside while meditating. Your thoughts are, ‘That drilling is so annoying it’s disturbing my focus.’ You step out of yourself and become aware that you’ve just had a thought as you observe it. Then you say to yourself ‘There’s nothing I can do to stop the drilling so I’m going to keep pushing the noise to the side, and bring my awareness back to where it should be.’ (In these situations I usually end up smiling a little too. I thank the drilling for being a hurdle in my meditation, grateful that it’s making my practice harder, and therefore better and stronger.) You simply think to yourself, or tell yourself, to return to meditation.
In a tougher situation where emotions and feelings are attached to your thoughts, you may say to yourself for example, ‘I’ve put on weight recently’ or ‘I wonder if anyone is looking at me and I look stupid’. These thoughts make you feel anxious, insecure or vulnerable. Again, you need to detach from these emotions and thoughts, by recognizing that you’re talking to yourself, and that it is causing you negativity. You say to yourself, ‘This is just a pointless thought trying to make me feel bad. I am stronger than my thoughts and insecurities. They are not the inner true me. What does it matter if anyone is looking at me and who cares if I look stupid. I’m here to practice meditation right now, not worry about how I look. Now back to my point of focus.’ This is what is meant by ‘having control of your thoughts’ – recognizing your thoughts, and talking back at them so they dissipate.
Don’t Worry You’re Normal
It’s important to give yourself a break and realize that having thoughts is perfectly normal, and before you become a seasoned meditator, they are largely out of your control. Thoughts happen in a split second, usually without conscious effort, and are formed due to past experiences and your current understanding of the world. They are a good thing because they prove that you have regular cognitive abilities. So think of the thoughts that crop up during meditation, as the mental weight training you have to go through, to get stronger and better at it.
Point Of Focus
There are many ways of meditating but the easiest is to pick a point of focus and keep returning to it, every time you get distracted, or have a thought.
- BREATH: This can be returning to the notion and sensations of breathing in and out, or counting each breath.
- GAZING: You can look at a candle flame, object or drawing and then close your eyes keeping the image at the forefront of your mind. When you get distracted or the image disappears, you open your eyes to look at it again, then close them, repeating and returning your focus to the image in your mind.
- VISUALIZATION: You can focus on a visualization of yourself perhaps on a beach or in a forest, immersing yourself in every small detail of the visualization you’re creating, and returning to it when thoughts or distractions crop up.
- MANTRA/AFFIRMATION: You can also choose a mantra or a positive affirmation and keep repeating it in your mind. You can use ‘mala’ meditation beads to feel along with each repetition.
- SOUND: Or you can bring your focus back to a sounds eg. nature sounds, chimes, mantra music.
Whichever method you chose, be kind to yourself remembering that distractions are normal, and your only objective is to observe, detach and keep bringing your awareness back to your point of focus.
You can also practice mindfulness by keeping your awareness fully on the task at hand. This can be anything from sewing, brushing your teeth, reading, cooking, fishing, or balancing your accounts. The point is to perform the task, immersing totally in each moment. Return to it forcefully but kindly, whenever you get distracted by your thoughts or anything around you.
Before You Start Meditating
First and foremost you have to want to meditate in order to do it. It’s as simple as that. YOU have to WANT to meditate. It is not something that can be forced upon you, or done by someone else for you. In the same way no one can really describe what happens when you meditate, you have to experience it for yourself. You can’t buy meditation and it’s not something you can build. You have to make the decision to dedicate the time to an activity that seems like you’re doing nothing, that brings you nothing tangible. This isn’t easy in an age of ‘doing’ and not ‘being’. There is so much pressure, competition and expectations today that we have been conditioned to feel like we’re being lazy, feeling guilty if we keep our focus on the present moment, and not on what’s happened before, or may or should happen later. The problem is that we don’t always see results from meditation straight away and we’ve become used to getting what we want quicker than ever before. Meditating doesn’t make you money, or create anything for you. It can however bring you immediate calm and clarity which can help you to be more productive at what you do as a result. Meditation is brain training. You are actively strengthening your understanding and control over thoughts, emotions and actions. You are learning to bring peace to your mind and body, and understanding your true inner self. Meditation increases your ability to quieten and still your mind, or be more productive and focused, on demand, and when needed. The benefits of this have implications on every single aspect of your life.
Time To Breathe
Those who think they don’t have time for meditating, are the ones that need it the most. It doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time. Even 3-5 minutes every day of drawing you focus back to one point is beneficial. Don’t see it as something that you have to do, rather something you want to do because it is good for you. If you’re not motivated to do it alone, then look for mediation classes in your area, ask a friend to practice with you, or look for support and guidance on the internet or phone apps. Aim however, for practicing alone by just bringing your focus back to your inhales and exhales. If you have nothing else in this world while alive, you will always have your breath. It is an unconscious act that we usually take for granted. Practicing alone with your breath enables you to practice anywhere at any time when you may not have your phone, a candle flame, or your meditation beads with you. We often breathe shallowly, not giving our body and brain the vital amount of oxygen they need to function optimally. So spend some time doing it consciously with appreciation. Making full deep breaths a regularity will benefit every cell, organ and body system, making you healthier mentally and physically.
Making Your Thoughts Work For You
The greatest benefit of consistent meditation is your ability to observe and detach from your thoughts. Your thoughts are when you talk to yourself, and mediation helps you identify when you’re being negative or damaging in the way you’re thinking. You begin to recognize what is happening and what you are saying to yourself, when you feel anxious, angry or fearful. Meditation helps you detach yourself from those thoughts, emotions and sensations. They are not you, but simply products of your past, or anticipations of the future. When this happens you need to change what you’re saying to yourself. You need to actively change the words in your head, and start talking to yourself differently. Recognize the negative script, detach from it, and start talking to yourself in more positive, reassuring and calming sentences. Talking to yourself is a good thing when you are being kind or you’re steering your awareness back to your point of focus in the present moment. Your thoughts have a direct physiological effect on your body, so speak to yourself in a way that is going to promote happiness and physical and mental health. Learn to see when your thoughts are a negative thing, and practice making them into something positive.