So you have started a meditation practice. But you mind does not want to settle when you sit down. Your mind wonders to your to do lists, ruminates on past actions or jumps to future concerns. First, this is natural and normal. Second, mindfulness meditation is about noticing these mental tendencies of not resting in the present moment. Third, over time, simply retrieving your attention to the present moment to your breath or body sensations will train the mind to recognize and work with the moving mental concerns with skill and compassion.
How to work with thoughts and reactions in our Meditation Practice
Thoughts in and of themselves are not a problem. It’s our relationship to our thoughts that is the issue. We become obsessed with our thoughts, engrossed in thoughts. We react to them, fight with them or suppress them. All of this takes energy, consumes our attention and exhausts our reserves.
The aim of meditation is not to stop thinking. The aim is to be more aware of thinking and reactions, so that we can relate to them and they don’t control or bother us.
I always come back to Victor Frankl’s insight « Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. » Meditation is cultivating our connection to that space of response.
Thinking is as natural to the mind as hearing is to our ears. If you believe that you are supposed to stop thinking, then meditation will be a struggle filled with frustration and tension. However, if you understand that getting lost in thought and beginning again is simply the art of the practice, then the whole process becomes more easeful and enjoyable.
Meditation doesn’t entail manipulating, controlling, or trying to achieve, as these are mental movements that take us away from our essential nature. All we need do is gently relax into and abide as unconditioned awareness. This entails listening, welcoming, accepting, and responding to what is, where the mind’s compulsive absorption with thoughts and we relax into an attitude of authentic and responsive receptivity, free of anticipation or striving. Meditation allows us to recognize and abide in our natural underlying condition: silent presence in direct knowing.
First method, become aware of your surroundings. Sit in a calm and tranquil place like your den, a park or a temple space. Simply breath and become aware of the space around. See the floor, the walls, the items around like the plants and perhaps the furniture or decorations. Notice how this grounds you.
Mindfulness meditation isn’t about achieving some special state, but rather learning how to live well. Meditation provides a laboratory to study how the mind works. Taking time each day to feel, breath, and rest in the present moment leads to a calmer mind, a more balanced nervous system and resilient emotional intelligence.
Second method, it is to become aware of your breath and regulate the breath to an even pace and length. Sit down in a calm and tranquil space, align your back so it is straight and comfortable. Then focus your awareness on each breath. Gently, lengthen your exhalations. After a few minutes notice you can also lengthen your inhalations. Now, breath so that our inhalations and exhalations are the same length and rate. A good indicator is three slow counts during the inhalations and three slow counts out during the exhalations. After ten minutes, you will notice your mind is more focused.
Third method, is to do a body scan. Again, sit down in a calm and tranquil space, align your back so it is straight and comfortable. Then focus your awareness on each breath. After you are anchored on the breath, move your attention to your body sensations. Slowly from the souls of your feet to the crown of your head, connect to the sensations, meet them, breath into them and let them transform. Notice the body is a field of changing sensations. As we connect to the sensations with interest and kindness, this has a calming affect on our whole being.
If you want to cultivate mindfulness in your life and need support, please attend one of my online mindfulness meditation courses. Each course has live online sessions, recordings of our sessions to access when you require them, one on one interviews and support material emails.
Upcoming Mindfulness Meditation courses online every Wednesday evening – click here for more information.