Have you been told you need to 'clear your mind' in yoga or meditation? Have you felt like that's asking the impossible?
When you think about meditation, there’s a good chance you envision a monk sitting on top of a mountain. Her mind free from thoughts or worries, and feeling at peace with the world. There’s also a good chance that this feels impossible to you. When you try to meditate your mind is filled with thoughts, worries, and concerns. However, these thoughts don’t mean you aren’t effectively meditating.
The misconception about meditation is that to correctly practice it you must completely clear your mind But how are you meant to cast away thoughts of doctor’s appointments, mothers-in-law coming to town? Long story short: It’s not necessary nor possible to clear your mind.
Meditation is about observing thoughts, not blocking them. According to a Harvard study, the mind is wired to wander about 50% of the time. That’s a lot! But these thoughts, even if borne out of negativity, can actually be beneficial to you. By being curious about these thoughts rather than erasing them, you can learn about yourself and how your mind works. By viewing your thoughts as a friend that you can learn from allows you to see your thinking from an outsider’s perspective, as if you are a friend giving advice to your thoughts. Welcoming your thoughts as friends helps you remove the emotion from the problem or thought because it is as if the problem is happening to that friend and not yourself, relieving you from the stress of it until it is resolved. You always give better advice to friends, so view your thoughts as friends and use them to give yourself some of that expert advice.
When thoughts, negative and positive alike, arise, view them with a friendly attitude. Even when you aren’t meditating, you tend to push away thoughts that cause uncomfortable feelings like frustration and stress, simply saving them for later rather than resolving them. Instead, keep a positive, curious mind and allow these thoughts in.
Meditation also helps you see that thoughts are just thoughts and are always changing. Your mind is constantly flooded with thoughts, some of which may cause you great stress. View them with a curious attitude and they hold little power over you. Use meditation to work through them and they hold no power over you. Nothing is permanent.
Bringing yourself back to focus when you realize your mind has wandered or once you resolve the thoughts that caused it to wander actually strengthens your concentration. Allowing your mind to wander, recognizing that it has wandered, and working to shift your focus back strengthens the connections among the brain’s circuits for concentration. The more you practice meditation in this manner, the stronger your concentration will become. You know the saying: Practice makes perfect.
As Greg Anderson, founder of the American Wellness Project, explains, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Meditation is not about achieving a blank mind, it is about growing from the journey your mind takes you on: recognizing when your mind is not blank, exploring the thoughts and emotions that occupy your mind, and strengthening your mind by learning to refocus your thoughts. Don’t try to clear your mind. Try to observe it. And take joy in what you discover.
Have a question? Have more thoughts on meditation? Let me know in the comments!