Throughout the day, we think about 60,000 thoughts. Often times these are the same thoughts, or variations of what we had running through our minds the day before. If our thoughts were recorded and graphed, most of us would be astounded to see how many are negative in nature. Some are flagrant, “I look awful,” and some are not as obvious, “Man, I really don’t have time for a vacation.” Others may start off as positive but get flipped fairly quickly, “We did a good presentation in the meeting, but I should have done a better job reporting the numbers.” To some degree, negativity can be a protective mechanism, so it’s as if only so much positive can be created before its clamped down.
When we learn to meditate, inevitably thoughts spring up about it such as, are we doing this right? These thoughts are part of our conditioning. We don’t just turn off what has become so automatic for us in every other part of our waking lives. You also don’t need to take on more criticism of yourself by thinking you suck at meditation or that that it’s a waste of your time. It takes an investment of effort and compassion with yourself to “break in” your practice.
As a regular part of your day, meditation can be a chance to become aware of what’s going on for you. It’s a time for you to create space to observe yourself from a different lens. You don’t have to figure out why something is bothering you, just acknowledge, that you are having the experience of the feeling. That shift can be gained by asking yourself, “Where in my body am I feeling this emotion?”
When it comes to your thoughts, you can observe the formation of of a thought coming into awareness. This is much like watching a wave form out in the ocean. It takes practice to realize when a thought is carrying you away as your mind moves into scenarios that cause your feelings to escalate. The idea is to stay just watching the thought. To help with that process, your inner dialogue in meditation may sound like, “I’m watching my thoughts and see they keep returning to my presentation at work. I can feel my anxiety in my stomach, as if someone is jumping up and down inside of it like trampoline.” The mindful act of being aware of the feelings and thoughts can prevent the emotion center of the brain from taking over and overwhelming your nervous system and mind. Through the practice, this allows energy within the brain to connect to other resources, like inner wisdom, creative problem solving and even objectivity.
To help facilitate your brain shifting in this way, after you acknowledge the feelings and identify your thoughts, think about placing them outside of yourself, at least for the time you have designated to meditate. Placing your thoughts onto clouds that float away and/or imagining your emotions turning into leaves that fall into a stream of flowing water can be powerful practices that free you from the grips of your own ruminations. Another idea is to let the thoughts and feelings turn into shiny black stones that can simply be put into an imaginary basket you keep by your side. After meditation you can always return to the basket to look at the contents with a fresh perspective.