Many mistakenly believe that meditation entails sitting still for ten minutes or so in some kind of contorted pretzel position and stopping all thought. These are actually two of the biggest misconceptions of the practice of meditation. They’re also the primary reasons most people give up meditating all together.
First of all, sit however you’d like. It’s best to sit in an upright position with your spine straight allowing a free-flow of energy. It’s not suggested that you lay down to meditate as it gives our physiology the mistaken belief that it’s time for bed! But you needn’t sit in lotus position unless it’s what you are accustomed to. No matter the position, just be comfortable. Otherwise, if you aren’t comfy, you won’t be practicing meditation for long.
Beyond your seating position, let’s chat about this idea of not thinking.
It’s literally impossible not to think. Stop for a second right now and try. Within a few seconds, no matter how hard you try to prevent them, thoughts will arise. In meditation circles, we call this the “monkey mind.”
It’s a losing battle to try not to think.
What meditation is about is actually to recognize and notice that thoughts have arisen.
Meditation is about training to continually notice the thoughts that do arise, not to stop them from arising.
Meditation is about noticing that constant and never-ending internal chatter that just doesn’t seem to want to leave you alone.
Try it out. Settle in for about ten minutes just to see. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths…
Once you find yourself in a comfy spot with minimal distraction, begin to turn your attention toward your thoughts as they arise. Don’t stop them or tell yourself you shouldn’t be thinking. Instead, turn your attention toward your tendency to put hard labels on your experiences and thoughts. See if you can catch yourself telling yourself some version of “I’m not good enough,” “they don’t want me around,” “I’m not loveable,” or some other label you tell yourself about yourself.
Watch how your thoughts are like the news feed at the bottom of the screen, those crawlers of information that continually move across the screen. Consider that your thoughts are just like that.
Instinctively, thinking that in order to find calm and peace we need to stop the crawlers. But like the old saying “that which we resist persists, our attempt to stop them actually can create an even tougher emotional tightness. This in turn, makes up some of our stress.
There are other times when we do notice and then ultimately regret that we’ve been carried away by the thoughts (crawlers) and try to force ourselves to just look at them. At these times, we could choose to do a few things:
Actually look at those thoughts of regret. Maybe try to break the thoughts apart to smaller pieces to see their origin.
We could shift our attention from the thoughts to the physical or emotional sensation they bring up - maybe you’ve gotten a little warm, your stomach feels weird, etc.
Or perhaps you could just rest your attention on the actual speed of the thoughts that pass through and watch them come and go and not allow them to “land.”
The idea is simply to become aware of the activity of your ordinary thoughts; the activity of your mind. This is what is important about the practice of meditation - the actual moment of noticing.
See if you can begin to notice this activity without judging it at all.
There are caveats of course. Sometimes, as the thoughts come, they get or stay stuck. We seem to endlessly recycle an old story that’s usually based on some sort of subtle or emotional body holding pattern. An old memory reminds us that “she said something mean to me so I’ll never speak to her again”, “I’m lonely” or perhaps an entire replay of a highly charged interaction surfaces.
When we slowly turn our attention to our thoughts, instead of being irritated, disturbed or carried away by them, instead we start to be amazed by how they come and go. This noticing actually gives us the chance to reframe our thoughts.
It can also give us an opportunity to see how our own habitual tendencies to believe our thoughts as somehow solid and true shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Good or bad.
Thinking is just our expression of the ability of our mind to generate judgements, memories, daydreams and ideas.
When we practice meditation and actually become mindful of our thoughts, it does not involve analyzing those thoughts but instead, just noticing.
Meditating like this for ten minutes a day is just the beginning of learning how to notice thought. And, because it is a first step, it’s a good idea to practice this in an environment that is relatively free of distractions.
When we begin to cultivate a more alert and attentive attitude toward all of the thoughts and the speed at which they run through our minds, that rush will undoubtedly start to slow down. We will begin to see that the crawlers get smaller and proceed across our mental screens at a less frantic pace. We start to become less inclined to identify with our thoughts and start to just allow them to come and go.
This is the beginning of understanding that our internal chatter, or crawlers, are just that, distractions. Our next steps involve not buying into that internal dialog, not believing everything we think.
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