The average person thinks about 50,000 thoughts every day. For some, the thoughts are so constant that the mind feels like a prison. But thinking is as natural as breathing. Even when we are in sleep, we have some low level of thought, interspersed with the often lively dream state. How then do we avoid thinking too much, when it comes so naturally to us, and when we have been taught to focus on the external world for notions of success and happiness?
If we think there is a method which completely shuts down thought, we will be sorely disappointed. However, if we can enter into that silent space between our thoughts, even if only for a few seconds at a time, our mindbody can experience deep rest, allowing us to release enormous loads of stress, and open up to intuition and a more positive state of mind. We can do this through two forms of meditation, mindfulness and/or mantra meditation.
But meditation remains a mystery to most people. Often people say that they try to meditate, but just can't stop thinking. Or they "tried" to meditate and didn't notice anything particularly intriguing, didn't experience bliss, or didn't experience any number of groovy things they hoped to or were told they would experience. The notion that meditation does not involve thought, and the related notion that meditation is important for the particular experience we have DURING meditation, are the two biggest misconceptions about meditation, and the main reasons many people fail to establish a regular practice.
Tackling the first misconception that meditation does not involve thought, it is crucial for anyone interested in benefiting from meditation to know that thoughts are PART of the meditation process. In fact, if we TRY not to think in our meditation, we will stay stuck in the intellect, for trying always involves thought. Furthermore, if we are under stress, or have a stressful past (and who doesn't?) when we meditate and begin to release stress, deep seated thoughts bubble up. To an un-experienced meditator, this can feel disappointing, as if we aren't "doing it right." But if those cobwebs in our mind are never allowed to bubble up, they won't be released; those stressful thoughts will go deeper into our sub-conscious, keeping us stuck and unable to fully accept the gift of the present moment, to let go of the past, and to embrace the exciting uncertainty of the future. Meditation in truth is not about forcing the mind to be quiet. It's about learning to see thoughts for what they are, temporary impressions that do not define who we really are, no matter how disturbing they might be. Its about learning to identify not with our thoughts, but with the silent witness to our thoughts. This frees up enormous energy to improve our performance in various life roles.
The next misconception is that the benefit of meditation comes DURING the meditation process. While it is true that meditation is often a blissful experience, especially for people who have used meditation for some period to effectively manage their stress and clean out the cobwebs of their mind, meditation has a deeper purpose. The true reason to have a regular meditation practice is for its benefits OUTSIDE of our meditation. Unless we live in a monastery, we have to manage life in the modern world. Taking time to meditate conditions our mindbody to be less reactive to daily stressors. It takes us out of the often health debilitating fight or flight response, into the counterbalancing state of Restful Awareness. Every time we meditate, we contact our soul, the part of us that is eternal, that is happy beyond circumstances. That contact leaves a useful and lasting impression on us throughout our day and night as it helps us to let go of the drama that makes us identify with our particular and sometimes disappointing roles in life. Thus, we can more fully enjoy life, cause we have a little more detachment, which allows us to play our roles with more zest, cause the melodrama is out!
If you feel like you often have had too much to think, consider learning to meditate. Explore both mindfulness and mantra meditation. Both are useful, but for faster access to that silent space that underlies all thought, mantra meditation is the way to go, for it interrupts the typical thought process, leading to more abstract thought, and ultimately silence. If you want to incorporate mindfulness into your daily mantra meditation session, but have little leisure time, you can spend one to two minutes in mindfulness prior to the release of the mantra. On days in which you have plenty of leisure time, you can incorporate extended periods of mindfulness prior to a session of mantra meditation. Spending brief or extended periods in mindfulness will pre-release stress and allow for a deeper state of transcendence, a deeper level of the state of Restful Awareness, in the 15 to 30 minute mantra meditation session. Nevertheless, even if you only take 15 minutes to practice mantra meditation, you will benefit by contacting that field of pure awareness in the deep state of rest we experience in meditation.
To learn more about meditation, its true purpose, how mantras work, how to set up a practice that fits within your daily schedule, how to use meditation to manifest your desires with greater efficiency, consider taking a class in Primordial Sound Meditation, an ancient yogic meditation tradition taught here in Atlanta. As a certified Primordial Sound Meditation instructor, I can teach you to meditate with effortlessness and with no expectations in each session, beyond the certainty that your life will benefit in all its aspects with a daily practice.
Take care, and consider meditation next time you have too much to think!