Our minds are constantly creating thoughts related to our feelings, our worries, our wishes and our dreams. The process of thought creation is a totally natural response to past, present and future events. Sitting still and being silent can be a real challenge for anyone who is normally busily going about their day. It is not uncommon for people to try to quiet the mind for meditation and to find that instead, their heads become full of more thoughts. The true goal of meditation is to observe the mind, thoughts or no thoughts. This experience may cause the mind to feel busier or create negative thoughts and can result in frustration or loss of motivation for mediation. But by creating a sense of silence in your mind you can achieve a deeper level of meditation. So how can you quiet the mind for meditation?
What do we know about our thoughts?
Thoughts are electro-chemical reactions in the brain but the complexity of thought processes still remains a topic of research. What we do know is that when we receive external stimuli from the world around us, this stimulates an electro-chemical event..travelling along neurons to axons at the synapses, the connections between the neurons. At any given moment we have unmeasurable numbers of events firing, synapsing and connecting to interpret stimuli in terms of colours, shapes, smells, touch into tangible thoughts in our minds. Take a moment to be in the present moment and notice all the different external stimuli around you, each creating its own passage into your mind to create a thought....this is why our minds feel so busy!
How to quiet the mind for meditation
1. Allow your natural thoughts to occur If you try to force yourself to clear your mind or not have any thoughts you will inevitably fill your head with many more. When you meditate try to let your thoughts be there and accept them without judgement. The goal of simply being is to be comfortable with everything that is going on. This is sometimes referred to as an Open Monitoring approach to meditation.
2 . Reduce the external stimuli as much as possible By creating an enabling environment to meditate in, you will be able to reduce the distractions that fire up your thoughts. Try to find a quiet place to meditate where you will not be disturbed. You may also find that using headphones or an eye mask can help to dampen down the surrounding noise and light. These can also act as signs to other people that you are in a 'do not disturb' mode.
3. Remove your expectations When you meditate it is easy to get frustrated with your busy mind. If you try to meditate thinking that you will attain a certain feeling or sensation then you will be less likely to get there. Often the most difficult meditation sessions can be the most effective and a signal that your mind really wants time to be still. Try not to be too fixed on what you want to achieve from your meditation practice.
4. Explore different types of meditation If a type of meditation causes you to have a busy mind or any feelings of discomfort don't just stick it out for the sake of it. Be prepared to find a different technique of meditation that feels more suited to you. There are many different techniques for meditating that it may take some time to find the one that suits you best. Be open to exploring different types as your life and needs also change.
5. Be a lifelong learner Meditation feels and looks different for everyone. Even the most experienced meditators will have days when meditation is hard or uncomfortable. Learn what you can from your meditation session and don't give up. Remember it is your meditation practice and it does not need to be perfect. Committing to a regular meditation practice will give greater results over a longer period of time. By learning new techniques to train your mind you will also be equipping yourself with tools to use in more challenging moments.
6. Mantra - The use of mantra meditation can help to take the focus away from thoughts onto a single phrase or word instead. Mantra can be helpful to faciliate a deeper state of relaxation for the mind. Mantra is often referred to as a form of Focused Attention in meditation -bringing the focus continuously back to a point, in this case, the mantra. If you use a mantra try to find a phrase that resonates with you or gives you an intention to focus on.
7. Practice being silent - Aside from sitting for formal meditation try to take time to complete daily activities in silence. Set aside a short time in the morning or evening when your activities are very habitual and be completely silent. During the period of silence keep focusing on what you are doing at that moment in time, bring mindful attention to yourself. Spending longer periods of time in silence, or taking time for a silent retreat can really help to calm the mind, find peace and clarity. This practice will help you to feel more comfortable sitting in silence for meditation.
8. Prepare for meditation with yoga asanas - If you find that your mind and body are super fidgety then some slow asanas can be really helpful before meditation. Yoga asana sequences are designed to prepare the body for relaxation hence the savasana at the end of a yoga class. Take 5 minutes to move through some simple seated or kneeling poses before you take your meditation pose. These moments, connected to the breath can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and prepare the body to be still. You will find that you are more able to sit still and start to achieve a deeper state of meditation.
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Image by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash