Friday, November 22, 2013

What to do when thoughts arise during meditation

I live in New York City and from the moment I wake up on a workday, I'm thrust into a fast-paced environment that bombards my senses. From walking on the busy sidewalks, vying for a seat on the bus and subway, and then striving to do my best at the office, when am I suppose to find respite in all this chaos? I started meditating because I needed to connect to my inner peace and loosen the grip of my active mind.

Sometimes when I sit down in meditation or lie down in savasana after my yoga practice, my mind just keeps going. When I talk to people who are new to meditation, I discover that they often have never really tried meditation because they believe they're doing it wrong because they can't stop thinking. In the beginning stages, this is not wrong, this is the practice of meditation.

Keep in mind that meditation, when used as a stress-relief tool, will consist of moments of letting go after letting go after letting go with brief calm in between. You are the one letting go. A thought about dinner will arise, you'll observe it, and you let it go. A thought about an ache in your butt will arise, you'll feel it without judgement or attachment and you'll let it go. If a tornado comes, you get off your cushion and down into the cellar, then let it go.

Now what is this letting go and how does one do it? Below are a three tips on what to do if and when thoughts arise in your meditation practice. If you're new to meditation, you should read an introduction to meditation. Meditation is exercise for your mind, you're trimming the fat. Don't forget that.

1. You are not doing it wrong if thoughts arise

If you notice lots of thinking when you sit down to meditate, great! You are being aware of your mind. How often do we actually notice what we're thinking? Not often enough. Too often we think we are our thoughts and feelings. Noticing that you are having thoughts means you are practicing meditation. Congratulations!

Often people assume that meditation is being in a state of bliss devoid of thoughts. While in the highest sense of an enlightened monk or life-long yogi this may be true, for a beginner or someone using meditation as a stress-relief tool, you can expect to experience thinking most of the time. After some practice, you may experience moments of bliss and that's great! Don't try to recreate these moments just appreciate them when you get them.

2. Label your thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, meditation is a practice. In the beginning you are going to be practicing a lot of letting go. When a thought arises, notice it and label it.You don't have to label it anything complex. You can just labeling it "thinking" or "thought" or "mind." Whatever rings true to you. The point of labeling your thoughts is to strengthen the observer within you. We are not our thoughts but often we feel like we are. We get attached to our ideas and feelings.

During meditation you let go of these attachments because they are false. You are not your thoughts, your feelings or your body for that matter. You are bigger than that. By labeling your thought, you start to see, "I'm not just my thought. I have an awareness bigger than my thought that has the power to label my thought." This process of labeling thoughts prepares us for difficult situations in life that might arise like anger or sadness. With this skill of labeling, you will still see and feel the thought but are powerful enough not to become enveloped in it's grasp.

3. Bring it back to breath

So what do you do after you find yourself distracted by a thought? You bring yourself back to the present moment! What is happening in every moment of our life? We are breathing! Either we're inhaling or exhaling or somewhere in between but the breath is always present. It is essential for life, so bring your attention back to that. The mind is like a telescope and can only focus on one thing at a time. Once you bring your focus back to your breath, the thoughts will fade away.

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If you have any questions or contributions, please write them in the comment section below. I would love to have a conversation with you.



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