When was the last time you did absolutely nothing?
That’s no tv, no internet, no reading, no talking on the phone, no socializing, no working, nothing! Chances are you are trying very hard to recall the last time you really did nothing.
If you have tried to meditate and have found that you can’t sit still or that you can’t clear your mind, you are not alone. Meditation is not about emptying your mind because, let’s face it, that might last for a second then the thoughts will return.
Get to know the nature of your own mind. It is constantly filled with repetitive thoughts and chatter. It’s how we react to those thoughts that makes the difference. We can choose to get caught up in them and follow the stories or we can choose to just watch what’s happening. I’m not suggesting that you completely detach from life but to sit and watch; to become an observer to your thoughts for a few minutes each day as this will help you gain perspective on how the mind works. The mind is very powerful and the more you understand the nature of your mind, the better you might be able to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety when they arise.
Let’s say you are preparing for an important job interview. You are qualified for this position, you have researched the company, you’ve had a good night’s sleep and you have woken up ready to face the day. Yet on the way to the interview your mind fills up with thoughts of doubt; ‘What if I don’t know the answer to one of the questions they will ask?’, ‘What if there are others who are more qualified than me?’, ‘What if they don’t like me?’, ‘What if, what if, what if…?’. Can you see where this is going? This is your mind’s way of keeping busy (which it loves to do) and unfortunately you are getting caught up in the story. Continuing with this thought pattern may leave you shaken up and arriving at the interview feeling nervous and stressed.
There are countless situations in our lives where we do not have 100% control of the outcome yet we tend to dwell on minute details and focus on what ifs, what should be or what should have been, which is causing us to miss out on the right now.
A short practice on observing the mind:
- Choose a time of day when you know it will be quiet in your home, perhaps early in the morning before others wake up, if you don’t live alone.
- Have a pen and paper or notebook nearby.
- Sit in a comfortable position whether that’s cross legged on the floor or in a chair. You can try this lying down however you may end up falling asleep!
- Take a few, slow, deep breaths.
- Set aside any goals or achievements you may be looking to accomplish by sitting still – let go of any outcome for this practice.
- When the first thought comes, do nothing, just sit there. Allow the mind to roam freely from thought to thought.
- When the mind follows a certain storyline, allow it, instead of trying to prevent it because you think that is the point of this exercise.
- Continue to sit and do nothing.
- After a few minutes take a deep breath in and then let it go. Let this be the end of the exercise.
- Repeat this the following day around the same time. Continue with the practice and take note of your observations each time.
I’m not promising any revelations nor am I going to tell you what you should feel after doing this for a few days. You might find sitting still very difficult or agitating at first, which is normal, or it could feel very peaceful or it could feel any number of ways. What’s important is to pay attention to your observations after the meditation and write down some notes such as what the mind was focusing on, how did you feel sitting still? There are no right or wrong answers.
With a better understanding of the mind, the interview scenario above could have turned out in a different way. As the ‘what ifs’ are starting to turn over in your mind, with awareness you can tell yourself that this is just a thought and that it will pass. You can even turn it on its head and tell yourself the opposite ‘I am just as qualified and prepared as the next person for this interview.’ ‘I will show up and be myself and do my best.’ With this attitude you are more likely to arrive feeling confident and relaxed and while it will not guarantee you will get the job, at least you have a chance to have a more positive experience.