A concern I hear frequently from folks who’ve recently started meditating is that they feel like they are thinking even more while they’re meditating than they did when they first started.
What’s really going on is that when you begin meditating and practicing mindfulness, you become aware of the quantity and quality of thoughts that flow through your mind. You’re not really thinking more, you’re justmore aware nowof what is flowing through your mind.
Be patient with yourself. The number of thoughts that go through your mind will slow down the longer you practice meditation. You may always have thoughts flowing through your mind at the beginning of your meditation, but what changes is that they begin to slow down more quickly the longer you practice.
Mindfulness is the process of watching what is passing through your mind and stopping the thoughts that are draining or unhealthy. Most things only need to be thought through once. The rest of the thinking, the mulling over and obsessing, is not only draining, it actually makes it harder to objectively see what is best. When you keep your mind quiet and don’t play your worries, schemes and dreams over and over again, you create space for inner knowledge to bubble up and be heard.
Mindfulness isn’t limited to stopping negative or repetitive thoughts, it also includes not holding conversations in your mind with people you know. A lot of people talk to other people in their minds, explaining their beliefs and defending their positions. Not only is this a waste of energy, again it prevents your mind from being still. When your mind is still you can more clearly see the pointers in the universe. The universe gives us all kinds of information, but you have to be still to see it. When your mind is going round and round defending your ego, you miss these pointers, not to mention the relaxation and brightness that comes from being still.
The good news is that after practicing mindfulness for a while it becomes automatic, so as negative or repetitive thoughts and inner conversations arise, you naturally stop them and redirect your mind to higher, calmer thoughts or no thoughts at all.
A large portion of the thoughts and feelings you have are not yours, rather you pick them up from others. This may seem entirely shocking and untrue, but you can do an experiment to fact check this for yourself. Go for a hike alone on an uncrowded trail and take note of the number of thoughts you have. After you have been hiking for an hour or so, you’ll notice your mind is still and that you don’t have many thoughts. Next go to a mall or someplace crowded and walk around for a while and observe how many thoughts are running through your mind. In a crowded place you’ll notice your mind becomes very loud and full of thoughts.
It’s helpful to be aware of this phenomenon because if you’re around an angry person, you’ll notice that you’ll begin to have angry thoughts. If you’re around someone who is worried about money, you’ll be worried about money. If you spend a lot of time with someone who is depressed, you’ll feel tired or hopeless when you’re around them. When you realize that a lot of the things that you think and feel aren’t coming from you, you can be an “educated consumer” and not spend as much time with people or in places where you pick up crappy thoughts and feelings. You can also learn to not act on the emotions that you pick up externally that aren’t yours.
Meditation calms you down. It chills you out. It makes you sharper and smarter. It can improve your health and make you feel younger. But most importantly, it makes you happy!
When you meditate you go into the light inside of you, the light that makes up everything and everyone. It’s the light of eternity and it’s happiness itself. So when you meditate, you are making yourself more available to the light in your being, which literally makes you happy!
When you meditate you come to have silent knowledge about the universe that makes some of the seemingly harsh and random events of life more understandable. You come to see that you are not just your body and your mind, but that there is a part of you that lives beyond the death of the body. You see that who you truly are is eternal.
This might sound simplistic or fantastical, so you have to check it out for yourself to see that it is true. In fact, one of the reasons I like the practice of meditation is that it’s not about blindly believing what someone preaches to you, but rather finding out for yourself what is true.
You have about 7 – 10 seconds before a thought gets stuck in your mind. When a negative or unhealthy thought arises, redirect your mind immediately before the thought gets stuck in a tape loop in your mind.
If you’re having a difficult time redirecting your thoughts, you can immerse your mind in a magazine, newspaper or book; you can listen to audio books or podcasts, or work on a project or hobby that completely absorbs you—whatever it takes to substitute the negative or stressful thought with something higher. (Music alone is usually not effective as an aid in mindfulness because your mind can still easily wander while listening to music.) For those who have a spiritual teacher they love, the most powerful and effective way to still the mind is to move your mind to an image of him or her.
Using this technique of switching your mind away from a negative or stressful thought before it takes hold isn’t meant to imply that you shouldn’t address the issue that is causing the troublesome thought. Instead the technique is useful when there is no action that can be taken at the time and the best thing to do is push the thought out of your mind. For example, if you are unemployed and looking for a job, you should of course do everything you can to find a job. However, once you’ve done all you can for the day, it doesn’t help your search to worry about it at night since worrying drains your energy. So as worry starts to seep in, employ the 7-second rule to keep it at bay. Another example is, suppose you and your partner broke up after many years together and when you think of him or her, it makes you feel really sad. In this case, employ this technique when you notice the thought of your ex creeping into your mind, so you can prevent the thought of him or her from getting stuck in your mind.
It’s a personal choice to be happy. Everyone has a high, happy side and a low, bored, angry or depressed side, and which side you live in is determined by the choices you make. The choices that lead to happiness are the ones that challenge us, awaken us, and keep us balanced—they are the choices to meditate and work-out when you’d rather watch TV; to be mindful when you’d rather obsess on something negative; to work on your career when it seems easier to just hang out where you are; and, also the choice to relax and unwind when you know you need that, but want to stay plugged in.
The choices that lead to happiness are the ones that take care of the things that are your responsibility—and just as important, the choices to not take on things that are not your responsibility. On a daily basis, we are presented with numerous choices, both simple and complex, that lead us to either more happiness or less. When you become the person who makes the higher choice by default, you will absolutely feel happier. The good news is that meditation increases your powers of discrimination and will, so it’s easier to both discern the higher choice and follow it.
Of course, many of the physical circumstances of our lives are beyond our control, but even in these situations there is a choice to be happy. When you get caught in a major traffic delay, you can bemoan your fate which magnifies the misery of the situation, or you can keep on hand great audio books, podcasts and music to entertain yourself while you are trapped in your car. In more dire situations, like finding out your partner cheated on you or that you have been diagnosed with cancer, there is still an opportunity to be happy. Stick with me for a moment on this one. Sometimes the most painful situations in life can act as a catalyst to finally get us to really stop thought, go into our inner light and experience that we are not who we think we are—to see that we’re made of light and are eternal. This is the happiest of all experiences. When everything is going our way, we tend to not be very introspective. But in truly unpleasant times, in our disillusionment with how we thought our life would go, there is an opening to experience something deeper. So even amidst the crappiest situation, there is a choice to indulge in the difficulties of your life or an option to go deeper into the quiet and deeper into your soul where true happiness resides. True happiness isn’t about everything working out your way. It’s really about being in touch with your inner light.
When you meditate, you go into the light that is inside of you. That light is inside of everyone and everything, and it cannot be owned by any culture, country, religion, lineage or gender. Anyone can slow their mind down and experience that light. It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or skinny, young or old, mediocre or extraordinary, a gal or a guy—anyone can meditate!
If watching a romantic comedy makes you pine for the perfect relationship and you didn’t feel this painful longing before watching, then don’t watch that kind of movie. If a song makes you miss an old lover or makes you sad in some way, then don’t listen to it.
It’s so simple. There’s no rule written anywhere that you have to feel sad or suffer over the past. If a song, movie, book, TV show, etc. makes you feel unhappy, turn it off. Although it’s true that some people love their pain and love to indulge in sadness, you don’t have to.
Our incessant internal dialogue—all of the strategizing, defending, regurgitating and worrying that we do—covers our true nature. When you stop thought, you directly experience that you are made of light, Consciousness, God (you choose your favorite word).
Keeping the mind quiet won’t make you unconscious or an idiot. Rather you become wiser as you begin to see the vast wisdom that is at your core. You’ll find that you begin to understand things without having to think them through and that you have access to greater knowledge that isn’t available to you when your mind is a cyclone of thoughts and concerns.
But keeping your mind quiet is hard to do in our digital, socially-networked world, where we are constantly bombarded with information and never out of reach from…anyone! How do you do it? The answer is simple—you meditate. For instruction on how to meditate, download the free eBook on How to Meditate.
Please note I’m not receiving payment for any of these recommendations; these are simply things I like and use.
A Great Cushion Set. I like the ones from DharmaCrafts, and particularly like the zafus filled with buckwheat hulls. If you sit in half-lotus or cross-legged, the cushions with buckwheat hulls are great because they conform to your shape and prevent your legs from falling asleep. They also have a quiz to help you find which kind of cushion or bench is right for you. I love how many fabrics and patterns are available these days.
An iPod or other music player. You may say what the heck, why not just use my phone?! The deal is our phones have so much crap energy with apps, news, emails, texts…yuck! I don’t want any of that noise near my meditation, so I have a specific music player I use just for meditating. A fun extra with the iPod is you can have the back engraved with your favorite mantra, like om mani padme hum, which means the jewel in the lotus, and is a poetic way of saying that enlightenment is inside you, and indeed, inside everyone and everything!
A Great Pair of Headphones (or Earbuds) that you use just for meditation. I personally prefer headphones over earbuds. The sound quality of headphones is superior to earbuds, plus I don’t like having anything in my ears while I meditate. It’s similar to how jewelry you wear throughout the day becomes almost unbearable to have on while you’re meditating. That said, this is definitely an instance of personal preference (see the A-frame story)! Indeed, one of my best friends can’t believe I want those heavy old things on my head while I meditate. You can find extensive recommendations on Wirecutter for all kinds of great headphones and earbuds.
A Bell. My dear friend Ben says that if he walks into another room and forgets what he was about to do, he just walks back to the place where he was thinking the thought and picks it back up. Our thoughts leave impressions, so walking back into his old thought bubble, he picks the thread back up. But what if you don’t want all your old thoughts and dreams around? A bell is a great (and fascinating) way to clear them out of your space and mind. When you first ring a bell in a space, it will warble, but as you continue to clear the space, the ring becomes clearer and clearer until it rings precisely with no warble. At that point, you’ll find your room sparkles, and your mind is emptier and brighter. A good bell won’t make you enlightened, but it will make your life much easier! Check out Karen Kingston to learn more on this topic.