Deciding What’s Right Way To Meditate For You
You’ve decided for whatever reason that meditation is the tool you want to use to change your life around or to enlighten you to bigger and better things in life. However, the frustration you face now isn’t the motivation to meditate but the lack of being able to stop your mind from wandering while you are meditating.
Now I could give you a lecture of how the real goal of meditation is NOT to quiet your mind. But that will only confuse you when others tell you that to reap the benefits of meditation you need to still the mind.
What I am going to say is that you work with what you got, you are an individual different to others so what works for me and works for you could be two worlds apart.
My advice from the “get go” is you need to test, track and tweak your meditation. Test different types of meditation techniques, track your progress and when you settle on what works for you tweak it until it connects you to higher levels of consciousness.
How To Clear Your Mind For Meditation
Let’s take a look at why you face an enormous task trying to tame your mind whilst meditating from the outset.
Did you know that research shows you have 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day? Think about that for a second…60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day.
if you assume that an average person gets about eight hours of sleep a day, it means that when you break it down, you have about 1.5 to 2.5 thoughts every waking second.
Of those 80,000 thoughts you have every single day, 79,000 of them are the same ones you had yesterday.
We’re playing the same script, day in and day out, over and over again, the same story repeating over and over again.
It becomes an annoying conversation wouldn’t you agree?
A habit and in most cases a negative one.
So don’t beat yourself up at the beginning when you are just learning how to meditate if you cannot tame your wandering mind.
Make meditation a tool to help you gain some control over the chatter in your mind and not center of your existence, not a life and death process that needs to be done or…
The goal of meditation is to be comfortable with the chatter, the noise in your head. To gain the upper hand of the scattered nature of all those thoughts that are constantly present in your everyday existence.
Understanding that meditation is the tool that will help you tame the chatter and not the cure allows you to ease into the practice of daily meditation minus the expectations and frustrations that come with taming a wandering mind.
Meditation teaches you to ignore your mind putting you in control and not the chatter. Rather than forcing things you choose to ignore it, accept it but ignore it…
You make a choice, over and over again, to stop paying attention to any of the objects that arise in your awareness. It takes practice, but like any good habit, you can cultivate it and refine it. Over time, you’ll get really good at ignoring the noise in your head.
How long will it take before you can control the babbler during meditation?
That again depends on you, who you are, how long you meditate, how consistently you meditate, the distractions that surround you and the environment you choose to practice your daily meditations in…
When you strip your environment and your experience of constant stimulus and you meditate all the time, then yes, your mind can go quiet….and watch your life change for the better.
How To Stop Your Mind Wandering With Creativity
Creativity is simply the act of doing something differently, doing anything differently. This relates to your life in that if the mind is having the same conversation over and over again, there’s no creativity and when there’s no creativity, life’s boring, life’s boring and minus any passion.
So if you can bring in creativity, just the essence of doing something differently, then all of a sudden you start to shape an entirely new reality: what you think is what you do, and what you do is how you create your life.
There is no better tool to enhance your creativity than meditation. Because when your mind is thinking the same thing over and over again, there is no creativity. But when you quiet down the endless mind chatter, when you settle down that repetitive day-in and day-out conversation, then you create space in the mind.
This space is the silence you strive for when you learn how to meditate. You connect to your genius within.
The genius within you has all the answers you need about discovering what you need to do to utilise your natural abilities.
Again, all you have to do is to still your mind and allow it to softly deliver the answers you have requested from it.
So as you quiet the mind through meditation, you create space, silence and within that silence lies innate potential for new thoughts to begin to spontaneously emerge. As you cut the noise, you tap into a very still space that is authentically you, and the thoughts that arise from that space are authentically yours. They are totally aligned with who you want to be in the world.
As you connect to that silent space through meditation, as you quiet down the mind chatter, then that voice, that guide, is allowed to come forward in a much greater way. And as you start to have new thoughts, you start to behave differently; and as you behave differently, your life unfolds differently.
When you meditate regularly, you take control of those 60,000 – 80,000 daily thoughts learn how to quiet the endless mind chatter. As a result, the new thoughts that emerge are directly tied to your authentic goals and dreams.
You also get in touch with your creativity, allowing you to think outside the box, to make change, and to evolve. Without much effort, you begin to fulfill your destiny. It’s really amazing to see how effortless it can be to shift your life.
When your mind is full of thoughts and you are having a difficult time winding down, it’s important to realize that this is another sign that things in your life may need to change. This is why new meditators have such a hard time when they sit down and start meditating. They become aware of how frantic their minds really are. And not just aware, but intensely aware and you are faced with the chaos that is in your head. This can be a bit challenging and overwhelming.
But realize that when you sit down, close your eyes, and use a guided meditation technique I will recommend later, you are approaching your thoughts from a quieter and more peaceful perspective. When you’re looking inward, with this heightened sense of awareness, you are learning how to observe and not react, instead of just being caught up in all the stories and letting the scatteredness of your mind to control you.
You are learning how to watch the activity without becoming influenced by it. The great thing is, even if you are thinking during the whole meditation, which isn’t ideal but sometimes it happens, you are actually unwinding that stress. You are letting go of that tension. You are setting those thoughts free!
Think about it.
Even if you sit down, close your eyes, breathe and think during the entire meditation, at the end, you will notice you still feel rested. Once you open your eyes, you will find that you feel more calm and centered.
Plus the thoughts have slowed down.
No matter how much meditation you do or how many techniques you learned, you will still have those thousands of thoughts bombard you. In fact, the first 10 to 15 minutes of your meditation can be totally consumed by thought and it’s not until the last 15, 20 or 30 minutes that your mind begins to settle down. That’s because when you start breathing and allowing the mind to experience its natural state, which is peaceful, it can still take a little time to unwind.
Once you master the shift in awareness and focus on your breath that’s when you will be able to take your meditation to another level of experience that is breathtakingly amazing.
You transcend into a space of pure observation and settle into a quiet and peaceful state. Even as you have thoughts or hear noises or notice distractions, you are still experiencing a sense of stillness, a quietness, a calm. You will feel a deeper underlying sense of comfort.
When you settle into this inner space, you experience your true nature – centered, clear, and connected. You feel comfortable in your own skin. You know that you are in the right place at the right time. You are present. It feels really good.
Now, do you think that you should go into a meditation expecting that you’re going to get to one of those places?
No, remember what I said earlier meditation is a tool not a cure otherwise your expectations will get the better of you. Your mind will wander to thoughts of am I doing this right, is my mind quiet enough, I’m tired, sleepy, I can’t be bothered anymore…
You will question the whole process and over analysis the situation opposed to just doing it…
Unreal expectations are the absolute opposite of what meditation is. Meditation is easy, it’s effortless, it’s gentle, it’s judgment-free. When you sit down and close your eyes, smile from the inside. Let this be your opportunity to unwind, to just be, to sit still, to relax. If you try to make it a goal-oriented activity you’re just going to use meditation the same way you use anything else in life, it’s never enough, I’m not good enough, it’s not working, this sucks.
Since you have the opportunity to shift your paradigm, go into your meditation with a curiously explorative mind.
If you are tired, notice that you are tired and don’t judge it. If your mind is really active, notice that your mind is crazy wild and don’t judge it. If you get quiet, notice that you’re in a quiet space and don’t judge that. Some days you’ll have one experience, some days you’ll have another. It’s all good. Each experience is getting you exactly what you need to be present here and now.
So regardless of your experience in meditation, bring in the energy of “this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now. This is perfect.”
Stay with the practice: be easy, notice, and shift back to breath. You know what they say, practice makes perfect.
A More Scientific Look At Why Your Mind Wanders During Meditation
You often find that your mind wanders. This may seem to be the opposite of what should happen while meditating, you expect to control your mind.
Research proves that you cannot completely control your mind, no matter how hard you try or how good a meditator you are.
Because of your emotions. Emotions and related thoughts are the way the body seeks your attention for its survival and protection. They alert you to the possibility of danger in the environment you find yourself in internally and externally.
Your mind warns you of danger by distracting your present thoughts and arousing you to the immediate possibility of danger making your mind difficult to control and the harder you try to control your mind the more it fights back.
So why should you practice meditation daily?
Well trying to control your mind is difficult at best and only exacerbates the whole process leaving you feeling worse off than when you started meditating.
Learn to stop forcing your will to control your mind by force.
Mindfulness meditation techniques helps you practice observing but not reacting to your emotions.
You need to learn how to accept or deal with these emotions, rather than totally eliminate them.
Mindfulness meditation techniques rewires the brain through experiencing emotions not fixing them, training your brain not to fear the emotions as negative energy but discovering the positives in every situation, moment, challenge and experience.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice, a technique that can calm the mind by decreasing your want to control it avoiding the chance of making matters so much worse.
The aim of most meditation practices is to notice the mixed emotions you are experiencing without judgement or seeking solutions to change them. You simply take the role as an observer.
Neuroscientists have learned from studying the brain that different parts of the brain have different functions. There are two different functional parts of our Prefrontal Cortex (our human, rational mind) that serve important, yet separate, functions. One is the “awareness” or “mindful” part of us; the other is the problem solving or “thinking” part.
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is currently thought to be our “awareness” mind. This part of the brain experiences things in the present moment, and is also connected with emotional centers in the limbic system. It is connected to and enables us to experience positive emotions.
It also has the function of managing and soothing negative emotions. Practicing meditation daily develops this part of the brain as well as the anterior cingulate cortex.
Doing this can help us feel more positive emotions, as well as manage negative ones.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is our “problem-solving” mind, that uses memory to determine what has happened in the past, so that we can plan for the future.
It does not have the ability to connect us directly with positive emotions, nor can it soothe negative emotions. It’s function is to take in technical information about the world and help us solve problems, either to protect us or reach important life goals.
An extremely important part of mindfulness meditation is learning how to shift away from the thinking, the logical side of your brain and into the awareness side to enhance positive experiences and better deal with negative ones.
Can You Stop Your Mind Wandering While Meditating?
According to Tracy Brandmeyer this may not be the case…in her research publication she states…
“Spontaneous thoughts often occur when we are engaged in attention demanding tasks, with an increased frequency predicting negative affect. Meditation does not require thinking, however thinking occurs naturally during meditation.”
“We develop the hypothesis that chronic thinking associated with strong emotional arousal during meditation practice might be detrimental to meditation practice and well being. One goal of meditation is to identify the arousal of emotions and thoughts, and remain equanimous (calm and composed) with them. Over time, meditation may help dampen the attention grabbing power of these thoughts both during practice and in daily life, which may consequently help deepen meditation practice. However, when meditators fail to remain equanimous, the effects of these thoughts may be deleterious (causing harm or damage).”
She continues to explain the origin of thoughts and their links to your daily life…she expresses her views that all meditation practices involve “the cognitive process of monitoring one’s attention.”
“Mind wandering is the process of involuntarily thinking while engaged in an attention demanding task such as reading or meditating.”
“research has shown that the neural structures implicated in meditation related processes and mind-wandering are coordinated, yet distinct…”
“Consistent with these results, from an experiential point of view, active thinking during meditation is usually seen as peripheral to the meditation task.”
“The degree to which we have control over the nature, content, and timing of thoughts that arise in our consciousness has been, and still is the subject of intense debate. It is central to the idea of free will: the existence of individual free will should lead to some degree of control over the content or our thoughts. However, given that our thoughts are often directly triggered by our environmental surroundings, and also given the fact that even expert meditation practitioners generally report having thought processes during meditation, it is impossible to argue that we have complete control on the occurrence of our thoughts.”
“active thinking or mind wandering is usually not considered a central part of meditation, as in general, meditation points towards the awareness beyond the processes involved in the generation of thought. Although not central, insight into intentional and spontaneous thoughts as they occur during meditation may be an important aspect of advancement by the practitioner in Buddhist models of mental training. In the Rinzai Koan tradition, thought processes are considered of great importance wherein meditators are asked to solve an illogical riddle such as the “sound of one hand clapping”, although even in this tradition the active thinking process aims at transcending itself.”
“Another example of meditation involving thoughts is the practice of loving kindness meditation, where thoughts are used to elicit an experience of connectedness. In this case as well, the experience of connectedness is the ultimate goal and the thoughts are used as a way to achieve it. Even several reductionist approaches now concede that there is more to consciousness than thought processes, and that the awareness of being, which is arguably purely experiential and beyond thought, may exist. Awareness may support thinking, as qualia supports perception. Thought processes involved during meditation may be separated into two parts: the content of the thought, and the awareness of it. Meditation points to the aspects of awareness that support thought, but does not require thought itself to be present.”
She continues to state…
“However, the subject/object relationship between awareness and its content during thought may be an oversimplification. The witnessing presence during meditation implies a distance between the observer (awareness) and the observed (thoughts’ content). Yet, most experiential approaches where the meditator investigates the relationship between awareness and its content argue that the two are closely integrated. From the perspective of experience, a thought may not be experienced as an object independent of awareness, so the distinction between the content of a thought and its experience is likely not as simple as one of the subject/object relationship. For this reason, neuroscientific approaches which aim at studying awareness and how it relates to its content during meditation – content which has been shown to be correlated with brain activity – might help tackle what philosophers call the hard problem of consciousness where the tangible (thought content) meets the intangible (the awareness of it).”
“we argue that the mental effort made during meditation – especially if it is associated with chronic arousing thoughts and emotions (and it is unclear if mental effort could be devoid of such features) – may be ultimately detrimental to the goal of meditation. Even for mantra meditation and focused attention practices, the activity of the mind is only there to support “conscious awareness” and the specific object of focus is provided to still the wandering mind.”
“Thoughts arising in consciousness during meditation are treated differently based on the specific meditation tradition. Some traditions instruct practitioners to label their thoughts, whereas others to ignore them and view them as peripheral to the practice, and others, to ignore them but view them as a useful mechanism of release. The fact is that thoughts and sensations – and as we have discussed previously, might be intimately linked together – and are the only objective content of consciousness during meditation. Giving thoughts one’s focused attention may serve to reinforce them – therefore it is critical that one’s attitude towards the nature of their thoughts and feelings during meditation remains relatively balanced.”
From this perspective, the proper attitude during meditation with regard to thought might be one of mindful equanimity. By remaining equanimous, one does not directly attribute emotional value to the nature of the thought, consequently bypassing the reinforcement loop underlying the neural circuitry supporting its content. By remaining mindful, one realizes that there is more to the thought than its content – i.e. the conscious process that supports it. As the indian philosopher Krishnamurti said “Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence.”
“One important risk of meditation practice concerns the thoughts and feeling associated with the practice itself. Often meditation retreats in the west involve formal and structured practice, some of them involving a lot of physical effort and pain as meditators sit for hours without moving or go through fasting and other forms of sensory deprivation. Although this provides a background for which extraordinary states of consciousness may be attained, this might not be so different than ingesting mind altering agents to alter consciousness. The neural networks are transiently altered but then settle back into states close to their original baseline activity. Worse, during formal meditation practice, thought patterns associated with strong emotions and physical sensations may be reinforced. Formal and constrained settings, as well as any setting where one has to discipline him/herself and may have strong thoughts about the list of do’s and don’t. While these types of practices may have been relevant in the early centuries of meditation practice, in modern and certainly in clinical settings, they host the potential for deleterious side effects by reinforcing the potential for negatively oriented thought feedback loops. For this reason, we argue that formal meditation in highly structured settings may be detrimental (to its intrinsic goal) for some participants who experience strong inner conflict about the nature of their thoughts and practice during meditation.”
Mindfulness Meditation Techniques To Help Stop Your Wandering Mind While Meditating
Following are some “Mindfulness Meditation Techniques” brought to by medicine.umich.edu
1/ Sit quietly with your feet on the floor, or lie down and completely relax your body. Begin with some slow deep breathing into your diaphragm. Focus your mind on your breath as it flows in and out through your nostrils. Continue to follow and focus on your breath.
2/ As you breathe, notice the tendency of your mind to wander. Instead of trying to focus just on the breath, just notice what the mind does. It may wander to a worry, or a memory, or to what you plan to do later. You may notice sensations in your body, such as a pain or itch. You may hear or smell things. Just notice whatever happens and then gently bring yourself back to your breath. You can remind yourself that you will tend to these other things later, and for now you will just spend time paying attention to your breath and to your mind. So recognise the distraction the wandering acknowledge it, accept it for what it is but then politely tell the distraction you are aware of the game it’s trying to play with you and you refuse to participate and return to your focused meditation.
3/ Allow the mind to wander as it will, time after time. Avoid the tendency to try hard to focus on something. Simply allow your mind to wander and then bring yourself back to your breath. Notice the tendency of your experience to change. Imagine that each thought, sensation, emotion…anything…is like a cloud floating through the sky, soon to be replaced by another one.
4/ Continue to practice this for about 10 minutes. Depending on your schedule you can add time to your practice if you want. Practice once or twice a day…again your choice.
5/ Remember that there is no “right” way or “wrong” way to do this, other than to just notice whatever comes into your consciousness. It is impossible to “fail” at mindfulness…just let your mind wander!
Preparing And Organizing Your Mind For Meditation
Before beginning your meditation practice for the day prepare by letting go of all emotional baggage you bring to the table. Try not over analysing things and just do it…
Try and stop living in the past, stop going over and over pictures of past that continue to haunt you. Or try and refrain from planning or contemplating the future.
Understand the past is not real anymore, it’s happened, it’s done with time to move on…
Yes, true it happened, it may even have consequences (maybe even forever lasting), but it doesn’t exist anymore and there is no way to bring it back into existence. So there’s little point harping on what can’t be unchanged.
The future is even more uncertain than the past!
You don’t even know when or if an event will occur in the future. To delve into the future is pointless as well as it stops you from experiencing the reality of now..living for the moment and not the past or future.
What To Do Before You Meditate…
a/ Stop your mind from thinking, take some deep long breaths and just relax. Gradually calm your mind down;
b/ Take a shower, step into some comfortable clothing, play some soothing music, stretch a little anything to promote deep relaxation;
c/ Make a mental note of how you are feeling both mentally and physically, shake away any tensions you might be feeling preparing yourself for your meditation practice.
What To Do During Your Meditation Practice…
i/ Whatever your approach to your meditation let it be that way, whatever works for you. Stop worrying whether it’s the right or wrong approach, just do it. You can’t concentrate deeply when you are worrying, thinking. You need to totally relax your focus on your breath. There is only one way to focus on your breath and that’s to just focus on your breath…it’s as simple as that. Overthinking things will only take you away from focusing on the breath not bring you closer.
ii/ Try to push your boundaries so that you can find new ones! Try sitting for longer than you had intended. Remember, the longer you wait, the more you get. As you increase the frequency and length of your meditation practice start to notice the subtle changes, the new experiences, the different attitudes that start to form…
iii/ The best way to learn new things and form better habits is to accept that you know very little before you begin. The fact that you don’t know something excludes you to judge it or have expectations of it. Play dumb for a bit and observe what happens as you accept that you don’t know anything about the art and science of meditation and thus you are not trying to anticipate the results or your achievements with it. Also, observe each sensation and each arising thought with curiosity and observe the nature of it. Do not judge it and try to push it away. Because what you resist persists. Just sit there, focusing on your breath, calmly breathing. Doing nothing. Thinking about nothing. This will boost your meditative experience.
What To Do After Meditation
1/ After you have meditated be mindful that you have just slowed yourself right down physically and mentally right down to the rest of your breath. So be wary of igniting the fuel jets and returning to breakneck speeds of everyday living too soon. You have tamed the mind to a much calmer state, let it stay there for a while. See what thoughts arise. See what your calm state of mind has to offer to you.
2/ Feel the flow of energy throughout your body. Feel the awakening feeling of your mind, be thankful of your new found state of calmness, clarity of mind, and positive outlook to life itself and take some action to making things even more real.
Taking It All In And Adopting Your Meditative Style
Most meditation teachers preach that having a wandering mind during meditation is all good and well. That bringing your attention back to your meditation every time you notice it wandering is all part of the process of meditation.
As frustrating as it is the mind chatter, the mind wandering during your meditation practice as you begin to learn how to meditate is going to happen. It’s how you react to it before, during and after your daily meditation which determines the results you eventually get from your efforts, time and investment.
My advice is not to become overwhelmed and give up instead weave your own style of doing that works for you and in time tweak it so you are able to maximise the benefits of your meditations. Be consistent, understand that the mind wandering happens to the best of us depending circumstances, feelings and states on any given moment.
Just get into the habit of doing and let the rest fall into place with time and effort spent…
When you stop the influx of destructive, negative thoughts to your brain eliminate the fear and worry about the future or past resentments the after effects are truly resounding, resetting your emotional state to one of calm, peace and happiness.
Make meditation your tool of choice to bring back the equilibrium in your body, mind and spirit and live the live you richly deserve and want.