Quiet the Mind
March 29, 2012
— meditation, quiet the mind, recognize thoughts
By Jim Rettew
Note: This is the second of a three part series. The first part can be found at https://breatheoutandsmile.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/moving-beyond-happiness-is-a-choice/
In my last post, I talked about moving beyond the mantra of ‘happiness is a choice’, that its less about will power and more about developing good mental habits. The one I’ll talk about today is recognizing thoughts and quieting the mind. Again, the concept is that emotions follow thoughts, so if you’re able to recognize your thoughts instead of just reacting to them, you’ll be more in control of how you feel.
You dont have to buy into your thoughts. Just because you think something doesn’t mean its important. Thoughts are like wispy little clouds, and you are a mountain. You are the principle witness to decide whether they’re real or not, and the more you look at your thoughts, the more you’ll realize that your brain sometimes acts like a spoiled five year old having a temper tantrum.
The best way to stop the chatter, quiet the mind, and recognize thoughts is through meditation. As a meditative practice, simply observe the breathing process for ten minutes or more. Do not force your breathing; observe it without interfering. Whenever any thoughts arise that distract you from your focus (and they will constantly), gently acknowledge them by labeling what you’re doing (thinking), let them go, and return your attention to your breath. You don’t have to attack or relent to any thought. Just look at it, observe it, and return to your breath as many times as you are distracted. With practice, this will become a means of entry into a quiet mind and athletic flow.
Below is one guided meditation technique. There are many. Don’t worry about choosing the exact right one now. Try the one below, or just another you find. Just try. Start small and build up. But here’s the deal…whether you do ten minutes or sixty minutes, make a pledge to yourself that you’ll at least try it once a day for a week. If after that, you don’t think its for you, then no problem. But it will take at least a week to get over the initial restlessness and monkey mind that will arise by slowing down.
How to Meditate – Excepts from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
What we’re doing is taming our mind. We’re trying to overcome all sorts of anxieties and agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able to sit with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way we relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It might seem more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything to a very basic level.
How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is compete attention to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.
First, it is important how we relate with the room and the cushion where we will practice. One should relate with where one is sitting as the center of the world, the center of the universe. It is where we are proclaiming our sanity, and when we sit down the cushion should be like a throne.
When we sit, we sit with some kind of pride and dignity. Our legs are crossed, shoulders relaxed. We have a sense of what is above, a sense that something is pulling us up the same time we have a sense of ground. The arms should rest comfortably on the thighs. Those who cannot sit down on a cushion can sit in a chair. The main point is to be somewhat comfortable.
The chin is tucked slightly in, the gaze is softly focusing downward about four to six feet in front, and the mouth should be open a little. The basic feeling is one of comfort, dignity and confidence. If you feel you need to move, you should just move, just change your posture a little bit. So that is how we relate with the body.
And then the next part—actually the simple part—is relating with the mind. The basic technique is that we begin to notice our breath, we have a sense of our breath. The breath is what we’re using as the basis of our mindfulness technique; it brings us back to the moment, back to the present situation. The breath is something that is constant—otherwise it’s too late.
We put the emphasis on the outbreath. We don’t accentuate or alter the breath at all, just notice it. So we notice our breath going out, and when we breathe in there is just a momentary gap, a space.
Then we realize that, even though what we’re doing is quite simple, we have a tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts—about life and about the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we’re thinking, and return to following the breath.
So if we wonder what we’re going to do for the rest of our life, we simply label it thinking. If we wonder what we’re going to have for lunch, simply label it thinking. Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let it go.
There are no exceptions to this technique; there are no good thoughts and no bad thoughts. If you’re thinking how wonderful meditation is, then that is still thinking. If you feel like killing the person next to you, just label it thinking. No matter what extreme you go to, it’s just thinking, and come back to the breath.
The idea of holding our seat continues when we leave the meditation room and go about our lives. We maintain our dignity and humor and the same lightness of touch we use in dealing with our thoughts. Holding our seat doesn’t mean we are stiff and trying to become like rocks; the whole idea is learning how to be flexible. The way that we deal with ourselves and our thoughts is the same way that we deal with the world.
When we begin to meditate, the first thing we realize is how wild things are—how wild our mind is, how wild our life is. But once we begin to have the quality of being tamed, when we can sit with ourselves, we realize there’s a vast wealth of possibility that lies in front of us. Meditation is looking at our own back yard, you could say, looking at what we really have and discovering the richness that already exists. Discovering that richness is a moment to moment process, and as we continue to practice our awareness becomes sharper and sharper.
This mindfulness actually envelops our whole life. It is the best way to appreciate our world, to appreciate the sacredness of everything. We add mindfulness and all of a sudden the whole situation becomes alive. This practice soaks into everything that we do; there’s nothing left out. Mindfulness pervades sound and space. It is a complete experience.