Silencing our thoughts

Category : Asanas (Postures), General advice, Philosophy 10th February 2020

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Inside Yoga 293 (10/2/2020)

When meditating we seek to avoid thinking and if a thought does arise we aim to drop it swiftly and without delay, yet some thoughts are more stubborn than others. How do we stop our thoughts in their tracks?

There is no doubt that meditating requires effort and determination, because even if we sit still for just ten minutes our body might remain still but our mind will feel very busy, distracted and restless… perhaps all of these!

One of the reasons why we can find it so difficult to drop our thinking is that we are attached to our thoughts. Not necessarily consciously, but more sub-consciously, we hold onto what we think because we become accustomed to thinking, day-dreaming in many respects, without self-restraint and self-control.

Meditation is a technique which develops control of our own mind, so the basic starting point is that we want to train our mind. Meditation, such as mindfulness of the breathing and body, aims to control our awareness of what we are doing both physically and mentally, and then exercise self-control.

With this type of meditation we drop every thought no matter how important or welcome the thought might have been. We might have realised the truth of everything, the answer to meaning of life, or our life, or we might have worked out what we want to do with our career, our family or this summer’s holiday. Whatever arises must be dropped while meditating. Positive thoughts feel more welcome so we are more likely to keep hold of them, but while meditating there is no point replaying them. Drop them.

During regular or long practices we will see patterns of thoughts arise, some thoughts keeps coming back, probably because we like the thought and story attached, or it’s a fantasy which we like replaying, perhaps a memory of a romance, which is a common thought. Yet, the instruction remains, drop the thinking and focus the attention on silence.

Our thoughts are like bubbles rising to the surface of an otherwise still pond. We see the stillness but are distracted by the bubbles. After a while we can see the bubbles just as they rise, we can anticipate them, and then be better prepared to stop them.

Positive and enlightening thoughts are some of the insights one gains from meditation, which can be welcome and helps us understand our existence, and this is certainly welcome. The stillness of meditation brings us clarity to see things as they really are; however, while meditating we are instructed to drop these thoughts. The benefits of enlightenment will remain within us so we do not need to keep thinking about them. If something positive arises we acknowledge it, and return to the stillness of the practice.

That’s the positive stuff, but what about the bad, unsettling, anxious, worrying and generally unwelcome thoughts many of us will get while meditating? Surely we would drop these thoughts without a thought? But we do not. We tend to hold on to negative stuff more than the positive. We act like masochists in many ways, willingly making ourselves suffer with worry, anxiety or anger. Why? Perhaps, because these feelings feel so strong we cannot get rid of them, or maybe we are determined to think through the whole episode of thought to find a solution, but end up digging ourselves into a deeper hole to get out of.

As far as meditation instruction goes, to message is the same, drop the thoughts with as much will power as we can, keep dropping the thoughts, as they will stubbornly return. Keep practising. With time, patience and practice we will become better at controlling our thoughts; whatever they might be.

It might sound harsh and strict, and for me, it took several years of practice, perhaps because I liked being distracted by my daydreaming while meditating, to understand that this instruction works. There are so many thoughts which we do not need, and there thoughts we do not need to keep repeating. We are simply chatterboxes, albeit internal ones! To have clairity we first need some silence and space.

I found it useful to understand what subjects I keep returning to, and instead of berating myself, simply acknowledging that I am back on the same topic, and that it’s time to return to the breathing awareness and silence, was the solution. With time my ability to concentrate on the gaps between the thoughts improved.

I have described this process while in seated meditation, but this applies equally while practising yoga asanas (exercises/postures) because it is important while doing these exercises that we maintain focused and free of thoughts, and totally engaged in the activity. Most people find it easier to keep thoughts at bay through yoga asanas than seated meditation, simply because the activity stops thoughts, but the moment we stop moving the mind races in with thoughts!

Combining yoga asanas with seated meditation is a practical way of developing the ability to meditate and keep the mind free of thought, because the preceding exercises help to quieten a restless and distracted body and mind, so by the time we sit, it is easier to maintain stillness in both body and mind.

We are creatures of habit, so understanding this through meditation is a skill worth developing.

For related articles in previous blogs see below:
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