Are your thoughts controlling you?
Let’s get to a state where you can control your thoughts.
There are a lot of good meditation apps like Insight Timer, Headspace and Calm that I find to be very useful. I think all of those are excellent. Most are guided meditations, some mindfulness and positive affirmations.
I teach a specific type of meditation that is very simple. I call it the “No Thing” meditation. It comes from Kabbalah, no-thing meaning nothing. The concept being that we want to go blank. The technique is as simple as this:
When you breathe in, you say to yourself, “I’m not my body.”
When you exhale, you say to yourself, “I’m not my mind.”
And we continue to breathe along with this concept.
This fits in with the idea of the Three Legged Stool according to the Greek philosopher, Plato:
Plato said you need to do something for each of those each day. All three need attention on a daily basis. I’ve found this particularly useful in my own life.
1. Brain: Shut out all distractions. Having a brain means you have a super computer there. Plug it in. Read a book. Do some crossword puzzles. Learn a language. Learn to play music, learn an instrument. Do something that engages the brain. Some people get that from the work they do at their job.
2. Body: Do something for your body. Do some kind of exercise. If you are limited by a disability, this can understandably be a challenge. But for those of us who are able to, we should avail ourselves of that.
3. Spirit: This area holds more mystery. We don’t know what spirit is exactly, yet it is the foundation of this meditation. I’ve worked with people of many different religions and atheists. Most everyone can accept this meditation technique.
Try to do it for 10 minutes.
You’ll probably get about 30 seconds into it and the monkey mind kicks in. The Buddhist tradition has coined the monkey mind to describe how the human mind works. Did I leave the coffee pot on? What is my significant other doing? What’s going on at work? Why did someone say something on TV?…any number of things. The mind will wander. That’s where many people can get caught up, thinking they can’t sit still and do meditation. After about a minute of thoughts, you remember you’re supposed to be meditating and you go back to “I’m not my body, I’m not my mind.”
That’s when I feel I go deeper into the fabric of the chair I’m sitting in. I do recommend you sit up. There are Buddhist traditions of holding a mudra hand position or holding the tip of the tongue against the top of the mouth where the gum and teeth meet. Some people prefer feet on the floor with a downward gaze. Personally I have trouble with keeping my eyes open, I just get too distracted. So I like to close my eyes. I don’t think that the physical posture is as important as the concept itself that you are repeating. When the thoughts inevitably come in and you move them aside, this is the muscle of the technique. When they come in and you catch them and then return to the process, that is the power of the technique.
This is where it really starts to help you in your daily life.
In cognitive behavioral therapy there is a concept called “thought stopping”. By itself it won’t heal mental illness, but it is useful. It is efficacious for focusing or getting something out of your mind, like a song or a negative thought. This meditation technique is practice at teaching your mind how to move thoughts and feelings off to the side. There are other techniques but this is a really good one. It is an exercise program. I like to start with 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. My clients and my patients in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers have found that useful. If you can’t do 10 minutes, do 5 minutes. If you can’t do 5 minutes, do 3 minutes. I’m all about small steps.
This is a very important exercise that I’ve incorporated into my daily routine.
I usually start out with the sama vritti pranayama, also known as the 4 fold breath for one minute and then go right into this no-thing meditation of “I’m not my body, I’m not my mind.” It’s an excellent way to start the day. It takes less than 15 minutes, although you can practice longer if you want to. I hope you find this as helpful as it’s been to me and those I work with.