Let’s get one thing clear from the start: The aim of meditation is not to stop all thought. If you are having thoughts during meditation, not to worry, this is perfectly normal. We are human beings with active minds; in fact, we have about 60,000–80,000 thoughts per day, so naturally, this is not something we can turn off at will.
But what meditation teaches us is not to hang on to the thoughts and not to run away with them. We can allow them to come, and we can allow them to go without getting swept away with the story or emotion they may carry.
Want to give it a go? Here are some helpful tips to help with your mind for the next time you sit down to meditate.
1. Counting the Breath
The mind is a busy bee, so it helps when it has a task. Breathing exercises are a good way to keep the mind busy, and they help the body to relax as well. You can simply count the inhales and exhales, starting at 1 and ending at 20. Once you get to 20, start again from 1. If your mind wanders and you realize you have lost count, that’s okay – just start again from 1.
2. Drawing Shapes with Your Breath
You can experiment with different breathing exercises, such as ‘drawing’ a triangle with your breath (inhale-exhale-hold or inhale-hold-exhale). For a balancing breath try ‘drawing’ a square in your mind (inhale-hold-exhale-hold). Sometimes it helps when there is a visual element your mind can follow, instead of just counting the breath. See which one works for you.
3. Using Guided Meditation
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Silent meditation is one way to meditate, but another good way is using guided meditation to help you. When you are guided by someone’s voice, and given visualization exercises, the mind is usually busy with the imagery and there is less room for your thoughts to run around. For guided meditation tips try different meditation podcasts; there are great free resources out there starting from 10 minutes per meditation.
4. Visualizing Your Thoughts
When practicing silent meditation, instead of trying to keep the thoughts away, welcome them. Often the things we resist persist, so welcoming your thoughts will already allow you more freedom. You can imagine that your mind is like the blue sky and your thoughts are like the clouds. You allow them to come and go freely. Your thoughts do not affect you, you don’t depend on them, and you are not attached to them. Just watch them float by against the blue sky.
5. Writing Down Your Thoughts
If you have a lot on your mind, it can be helpful to journal your thoughts before meditating. Write down all of your thoughts as they come to you, without analyzing them and without stopping to think if you are formulating everything correctly. Just write everything down; dump it on paper until you feel relieved. Take a few cleansing, long breaths, and quiet down for your meditation. Your mind should be much clearer now.
6. Having a Regular Practice
Meditating at the same time every day, and in the same meditation spot, means your mind knows what’s coming and will be more at ease. The mind is not trained to be still, therefore it will fight against a sudden request to stop doing what it naturally does. Just like we don’t ask our heart to stop beating during meditation, we should not ask our minds to stop thinking.
Only with regular practice can we teach the mind to be more still, and to allow more space between the thoughts. It’s important to start with short meditation times and increase slowly, with patience and kindness towards yourself.
What we need to remind ourselves when meditating is that the ease of it will vary. Sometimes it will feel very easy and focused, other times it will feel like an internal struggle. It’s also good to remember that in a 15-minute meditation maybe only a few minutes will be calm, clear and concentrated meditation. The rest will be a struggle and full of distraction.
But it’s okay, because this is the essence of the practice of meditation. We tune in, we practice patience, and we slowly give ourselves the gift of space.