Wait, You Said NOT to Clear Your Mind?
How many times have you heard someone say, “As you meditate, breathe, and clear your mind”?
Is your hand raised?
What if I told you that you’re supposed to think when you meditate? Would you believe me?
What’s funny about “clear your mind” is that, honestly, every time I hear it, my mind does the opposite. I hear, “clear your mind” and instantly all the things I worry about, think about, feel, smell, touch – ALL the things – seem to force their way into my consciousness.
It’s kind of like when someone says, “whatever you do, don’t look up.” What do you do? You look up. Or at least I do. I also love to worry when someone says, “don’t worry about it.”
So Many Thoughts
During the course of the day, a typical person has between 10,000 and 60,000 thoughts – per day. Your mind evolved to think. It’s what you do to further yourself. To survive. It’s part of your DNA and there’s no getting around it.
The Biggest Misconception in Meditation
This brings me to my point. One of the biggest misconceptions in meditation is that you’re supposed to clear the mind.
Maybe a Zen Master with over 10,000 hours of meditation can do that, but pretty much everyone else, including you and me, is on a thought train. Even then, that Master still has thoughts. And plenty of them.
Thoughts are a part of meditation, and they always will be.
“Focus” in Meditation
What are you supposed to do then, when someone says, “clear your mind”? This is an opportunity to treat it as an invitation to breathe. To settle in. And begin to observe. More on that in a minute.
When you begin to meditate, you should always have a focus. It can be the breath, the body, a mantra, a candle, or something similar.
Then as you progress with your meditation session(s), you bring your attention back to whatever it is that you’re focusing on. Throughout your meditations, you will have thoughts. They are part of the brain’s processing system, and help with stress release.
Become an observer
Depending on the type of meditation you’re doing, what you actually observe will be a little different.
If you’re doing a breath awareness meditation, you observe the breath. When you notice you’ve gotten on the train of your thoughts, you get off and return to the breath.
In a body scan meditation, you’re observing and relaxing the body. These observations will entail looking at body sensations. Again, the thought train will pull you away. When you become aware that you’ve left the station, you “return” by focusing back on relaxing parts of the body and the sensations that arise.
In a mantra meditation, you can “observe” the mantra in your mind – the words, the symbol if there is one, or a scene. You can also observe the sound of the mantra, or the silence between the sounds. Still you can observe the body as it reacts to the mantra.
You can also observe your thoughts themselves. This is a little more difficult than the more tangible items-to-observe above, but this is still a good practice.
You Are Not Your ThoughtsWhen you observe your thoughts, it teaches you that, really, you are not your thoughts. You are not your experiences. You are not what happens to you. Click To Tweet
You are essence. A soul.
Think about that. You’re not the same person you were when you were 10 years old. And yet you are the same.
You are not your name. That is a label.
You are not your hair color or eye color. These are labels.
You are the stillness beneath.
Observing your thoughts creates the space that allows you to observe yourself and the things you think and do. It actually elevates your level of consciousness.
And by giving attention to your thoughts, it helps them to go away.
Observing Your Thoughts
You can observe your thoughts in a few different ways.
You can label them for their content. As a thought comes to mind, say about a meeting you have, you can say, “that’s a thought about work,” and then watch the thought as it goes.
The next thought might be, “I need to do all these things today, and I want to remember them.” That’s a thought about the future. Then you can watch these thoughts go.
Those same thoughts might return again and again, too. That’s okay!
You can observe the thoughts that come and label them for the emotion they evoke.
For example, if you’re worried about a project, you can say, “that is a thought about worry,” and then let it go.
If something big is happening in your life, and you can’t stop thinking about it, you can say, “this thought about anticipation,” “this is a thought about happiness” or “this is a thought about anxiousness.” Then let it go.
Labeling thoughts about the meditation
Let me begin this part by saying, all meditations are good meditations. Your brain state changes as soon as you try your first meditation.
It’s tempting to label your meditation. “This is a good meditation,” or “this feels challenging today.”
You can put these labels to rest, however. Some days you will feel like you go deeper with your practice, and other days it will feel like you can hardly focus. You still had a good meditation.
If you find yourself comparing one meditation session to another, acknowledge the thought, but then let it go, knowing you’re doing fine.
You’re Teaching Your Brain to Focus
When you redirect your thoughts again and again to the focus of your meditation, you’re teaching the brain to hyper-focus. It is this process that improves your efficiency, and your focus in your waking life. This constant re-focus also teaches your brain to let go of those thoughts that do stress you out, or cause you to overthink everything.
And this is the practice. The practice of meditation isn’t the you, perfectly at peace, with your thumb and index fingers in the jnana position. Though meditation can look like that, meditation is coming back to your focus over and over and over and over again.
No matter how many times it takes.And, it works. This is how I’ve been able to overcome my own anxiety and stress. I still get anxious thoughts. I still get stressed. But the practice of always coming back to my focus means that I can redirect those thoughts into more peaceful pastures. I can let them go.
If you want some guidance on learning meditation, let me help you. Manage your anger, reduce stress, curb your anxiety.