Arriving Home :: Befriending Your Mind In Meditation
Learning to befriend our own minds in meditation is like meeting a long-lost best friend.
What is one of the most common obstacles we encounter in meditation? Our own thoughts. If this is ringing true for you, rest assured you are not alone on this one. So many of us experience a lot of unnecessary suffering in meditation because we think we are not supposed to be having thoughts while we are meditating.
Good news: thoughts are part of our meditation practice.
And when we learn to be friendly with our thoughts, we take the first step in letting the mind become a new best friend instead of an annoyance in our meditation.
5 Practices For Working With Thoughts During Meditation
Mental Noting and Labeling. This technique was a game-changer for me in my meditation practice. It allowed me to learn that I am not the thoughts that I am having. In other words, it created space between me and my thoughts so I could see them for what they were: just thoughts in my mind.
This practice comes to us from Shinzen Young, a mindfulness teacher to many of my own meditation mentors and fellow meditation teachers.
The Technique: Whenever a thought arises in the mind, silently note to yourself "thinking" and return to the breath or the object you are focusing on in the present moment. You can do this over and over each time a thought begins or you notice that you are in mid-conversation during your meditation.
See Your Thoughts As Clouds In A Bright Blue Sky: a particularly helpful technique for visual thinkers.
Since the nature of our mind is like the open bright blue sky, thoughts act as clouds passing through the open sky like nature of the mind.
The Technique: Visualize your thoughts as clouds floating through a bright blue sky. Some thoughts may be dark ominous clouds and others may be wispy and fleeting. Between the clouds of thoughts in your mind, you can also see the patches of bright blue sky between the clouds. This is your reminder of the true, restful nature of your mind and that thoughts will come and go just like clouds in the sky.
Offer Each Thought A Flower Of Compassion. Often we tend to judge ourselves for thinking during meditation.
This technique is a way you can reshape your relationship with your thoughts by offering kindness and compassion to each that arises while meditating.
The Technique: Whenever you notice that you are thinking during meditation, visually offer the thought a flower of compassion. Compassion is the unconditional understanding that says to your thinking mind, "it is okay that you are thinking!" This way we don't vilify our thoughts during meditation but learn to befriend them.
Not Now. This technique is strong, stern and simple.
A particularly good technique if you are encountering rapid thinking or a lot of ruminative thinking.
The Technique: Silently say to the mind when a thought arises, "not now. Not now." And return to your breath or the object you are focusing on in the present moment. (Make sure to have the "not now" be in a gentle kind tone just like you would use with a small puppy.)
Get Off The Train At Any Time. Full-blown thinking during meditation is much like being on a train or on the platform waiting for a train.
One of my meditation teachers and mentors Diana Winston from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center shares this practice in many of her weekly classes. She enthusiastically always says, "you can choose to get off the train or choose to not even get on it!"
The Technique: In this practice, you see your thoughts as a moving train. If you are on the platform at the train station and you see the train coming, you can choose to not get on the train and let it pass on by. Alternatively, if you catch yourself already on the train of full-blown thinking, you can choose to get off the train at any time.
You can try each of these techniques one at a time and find the best practice for you and your meditation.