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How To Get A Break From All Those Thoughts In Meditation

May 30, 2008
Many begin the practice of meditation with the notion that experiencing inner quietness requires turning off the mind and stopping the thoughts through sheer will. Those who try this quickly find how frustratingly difficult it can be. In fact, most soon discover that it is virtually impossible to simply turn off the mind for more than a few seconds. This is because the mind's tendency to create thoughts is such a powerful natural force. One of the most important things you can learn in order to start meditating with effectiveness and ease, is that the thoughts are not your enemy. By trying to stop your thoughts or push them out of your mind, you are creating a situation of conflict while trying to achieve peace.

If you can't find a bit of inner quietness through trying to control your mind, then what can you do to get a break from all that mental chatter? There are a number of ways in which you can experience a respite from your thoughts through meditation. Here are the three most effective approaches I've found through my years of meditating and teaching.

1. Let the method do the work

Most traditional meditation methods involve focusing your attention on one thing. This primary "object of focus" may be your breathing, a visual image, a mantra, or various other possibilities. By directing your attention to this object of focus you are directing it away from your thoughts. This in itself can provide some relief from being constantly involved in your thoughts.

However, what normally happens is that the thoughts - being very seductive - will generally pull your attention away from your object of focus. When this occurs, the key is to accept that it is ok and perfectly normal to become involved with your thoughts, and to avoid the tendency to fight against them. When you notice you've gone off on a train of thought, simply redirect your attention back to your object of focus - no matter how many times you have to do it.

How, you may ask, can you get relief from a noisy mind by bouncing back and forth like this? What you will discover as you continue to meditate, is that on some days you will experience periods when your thoughts slow down, or become more faint or dreamlike, or retreat into the background on their own. And there will be days when your mind suddenly and effortlessly shifts into a deep state of pure silence.

These quieter states may occur for just a few moments, or they may last longer. The important point is that when they do occur, it is not due to any intensified effort on your part... rather, they occur spontaneously, as a result of simply going through the steps of your meditation with relaxed effort and letting the method do the work.

This approach requires learning to trust the method and the process, as well as letting go of the notion that you can willfully subdue your thoughts. This "allowing" approach is an effective way to experience more quietness - and depth - in many meditation methods. However, the technique I have found most effective for producing spontaneous states of inner quietness through letting go and trusting the method is the Universal Mantra Meditation.

2. Going out of your mind

Another way to get a break from a noisy mind is to shift your attention out of your mind, i.e. away from the physical location of your mental activity. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to direct your attention to your heart chakra, the quiet energy field - about the size of a volleyball - that fills the area where your heart is.

To do this, you simply focus your attention on your heart chakra with relaxed effort, and as you do, feel or sense the quiet space that exists there. You may or may not experience it immediately. If you don't, just remain focussed there - and away from your mind's chatter - and eventually your perception will deepen into the experience of your quiet heart-space.

With continued practice, you may find your quiet heart-space expanding into what is known as your pure inner awareness. This pure awareness is your Essence... your Inner Self or Spirit. This silent awareness exists beyond the mind. When you experience this silent, "spacious awareness," you will discover that even though your mind may still be creating thoughts, they do not disturb the profound peace of your Inner Self.

Regardless of how deep your initial experience of your heart chakra is, notice that it is, in fact, away from your mind's chatter. Chances are, your thoughts will still pull you back into your head and the familiar drama taking place there. But when you notice that this has occurred, simply redirect your attention back to your heart chakra and the quietness that exists there.

3. Going into your mind

Another effective way to experience inner quietness is to go totally into your mind, focussing your attention on the thoughts as they move through your mental field. Many find that as soon as they begin looking for their thoughts, ironically, they seem to disappear. When practicing this meditation, it helps to understand that your thoughts are simply a stream of energy and ideas flowing through the energy field known as your mind. The flow of this thought-stream is generally upwards.

To practice this method, simply direct your attention to your thoughts. With relaxed effort, pay attention to the stream of energy and ideas as it flows upward through your mind. What will occur at some point, is that you will begin to experience your thoughts more as energy than as ideas. As with most meditations, the thoughts will pull your attention in at times. When you notice that you've become involved in the narrative of your thoughts, gently shift your focus toward perceiving them more as a flow of energy.

Daily meditation produces a broad spectrum of positive life changes, and most of these will occur regardless of whether you experience a quiet mind when you meditate. However, the various states of inner quietness are certainly an enjoyable aspect of meditation. If getting a break from your mind's chatter is one of the reasons you took up meditation, then I suggest you give these three approaches a try and see which works best for you.

It is worth repeating that your thoughts are not the enemy, and attempting to subdue them will not lead to a quiet mind. Rather, by following one of these suggested approaches/methods, you will begin to experience periods of relief from your thoughts... and as you continue your meditation practice, those spontaneous states of quietness will begin to occur more frequently.
About the Author
Jim Malloy is a meditation teacher with 35 years of experience. Trained in 1973 by the International Meditation Society, he has taught classes throughout the western & south-western U.S. & in the U.K., & now teaches in north-central Florida & globally via The World Wide Online Meditation Center.
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