How to Slice Through Thought Like a Knife Through Butter
The principal enemy of mindfulness—or of any meditative practice—is our deeply conditioned habit of being distracted by thoughts. The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking. In fact, thoughts of all kinds can be perfectly good objects of mindfulness. – Sam Harris
I am a big fan of meditation and the benefits it has in my everyday life. Not only does it allow me to snap more quickly into the present moment, but I feel over the years that I’ve made plenty of shifts of becoming more compassionate and more loving in my ever day relationships with others. Now I know like every other person on this earth, I have my bad days, but they are usually few and far between. So in this article I will just give my simple guide to snapping back to the present through both sitting meditation and living meditation.
Creating good habits by not over-doing it
I am sure you’ve had those experiences where you get this overwhelming desire to create a new habit like running, going to the gym, eating healthy, etc. However, a week into your new habit you get burnt out and drop the habit claiming it is too hard or that it feels too much like a chore. I feel you! I’ve been there too.
But if it’s one thing I learned about habit forming; its all about how you approach the habit you want to form. Instead of trying to make a habit a herculean task, make it small. As Bill Murray learned in What About Bob; it’s all about the baby steps.
So in respect to meditation, just start with 5 minutes a day after you wake up in the morning. That is something that should be obtainable for most very easily to where you can gain the habit of doing it for 30 days. From there you can increase the time 5 minutes bi-weekly. Soon you’ll be up to my ideal meditation of 25 minutes in no time. You can also find support groups and also keep track of your habit streak by making an account on Lift.do if that will help you stay on track.
The point is to make it incredibly easy to succeed at your habit, not about burning yourself out.
How to get your way in meditation by being a witness
Like Sam Harris quote above, most of the time we forget we are even thinking and get lost in inner thought stories. This seems to be the main obstacle and misconception in meditation. Most people think that it is about forcing the mind into silence. This is not actually the case. It is just in the noticing that thoughts are just passing through and to allow them to pass through without grasping onto them as being OURs.
Here are some steps I use to help accomplish this:
- Breathing in through the nostrils, note to yourself inside (“in”) and when breathing out (“out”). After the exhale, note (“one”), and take the count to 10 as long as thoughts don’t take you away from your focus (start over count until meditation time is up.)
- If you then notice a thought has carried you from focusing on breathe, GREAT! Celebrate the fact that you caught thinking happen, so note (“thinking”). Now you can bring your attention back to the present moment and focusing on your breath.
- Visualize thoughts like clouds passing through your mind (which is the sky), and just try to see them as only passing through without disturbing them or trying to change them.
How this works for me in everyday life is that I actually use this snap back method while doing various things (like driving, walking, or reading.) I am as attentive as possible on what I am doing and when I catch myself in thinking of “other” things, I celebrate that I have woken up from that dream again and can be present for the thing I am currently enjoying.
There are tons of benefits and positive qualities to being mindful and cultivating mindfulness through meditation but I will leave you with one last quote from Sam Harris new book called “Waking Up”
The quality of mind cultivated in vipassana is almost always referred to as ‘mindfulness,’ and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial. There is nothing spooky about mindfulness. It is simply a state of clear, nonjudgemental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression; improve cognitive function; and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness…
image cred to Jon Fife