by Kara-Leah Grant
It happens all the time – people tell me they can’t meditate because they think too much. They can’t stop themselves from thinking… But none of us can stop ourselves from thinking, even when we’ve been meditating for a long time. Meditation is the process of being aware of the thoughts…
The following dialogue was inspired by a couple of emails from readers, who wanted to know how to control their thoughts.
How do we stop compulsive thoughts from invading and taking over our minds?
There is no easy way to stop the thoughts, except to withdraw energy from them, but also one must recognise why one is having these thoughts.
See, YOU are not your thoughts, nor your mind, nor your personality, nor your body. You are the eternal, unchanging consciousness within.
What does this have to do with the thoughts in our minds?
The thoughts are automatic… they are generated based on your past, your personality, your emotions… they are inevitable. Yet they mean nothing.
They are clouds floating past the blue sky – is the sky altered by the clouds? No? Does the sky get upset about the clouds moving through? No, the sky is just there, eternal and unchanging.
Why do these thoughts bother you so much? They mean nothing, they are nothing, just empty words floating across the inner sky of your mind. It is only the meaning you attach to them that make them important, it is only the energy you send to them. It is only that you notice them.
So if we’re having thoughts like this, what do we do?
Nothing. There is nothing to do. They are not you, you are not they. Watch them as you would butterflies flitting across your front lawn. Do you get upset and angry and worried about the butterflies? No… you just watch them.
But what if these thoughts stop us from sleeping?
Ah… then you are not watching the thoughts and allowing them to dance through… you are chasing them and adding fuel to them and engaging them.
If you were lying on your hammock watching the butterflies on your lawn, would their dancing stop you from sleeping? No. But if you leapt up out of the hammock and tried to chase the butterflies away, running this way and that, do you think you could sleep?
So how does one do this? How do we move from engaging our thoughts and thinking our thoughts, to just watching and observing our thoughts?
One simply does – step back and observe.
When the thought arises… see it, notice it, taste it, and then say ‘next’, or ‘stop’ or ‘over’… whatever you like. And for a moment sit in that place between thoughts, until the next thought arises and you notice it, catch it and say your word again.
And again. And again. Eventually, the thoughts stop coming because there is no joy in being ignored.
Think of a puppy wanting attention. It rubs it’s head against you. You gently push it away. It tries again, you push it away again. Eventually, by pushing it away enough and staying in your stillness, the puppy gets bored and leaves. Your thoughts are the same.
The mind is YOUR tool, you are not IT’S tool. You don’t have to give thoughts energy or attention when you don’t need to. At times, it is very useful to be able to think this, or think that… but like any useful tool, the mind can be turned off and put away.
Why do memories play again and again in our minds?
Because you are still attached to those memories, those people, those times, those events. You are living in the past, you are wishing for what is no longer. You are wanting something. If you don’t want to dwell on the memories, then don’t.
Use the same technique as you would with your thoughts – when a memory arises, notice it, and let it go. Say ‘next’. Sit in the stillness, until the next memory arises, and again you say ‘next’.
Working with the thoughts and the memories in this way is a practice, like any practice, the method becomes easier and easier, until the practice is automatic and the thoughts and memories fade away.
What happens when thoughts cause us to feel something?
Then feel it. This is good. Emotion exists to be expressed. When you think about someone, and you cry… you still have emotion to release. Yet don’t fall into the trap of yearning for something that is no more and CREATING new emotions for yourself. These are two different things.
In one, the emotion already exists, and has been stored in the body, and the thought comes along and provides an outlet for that emotion.
In the second, there is no emotion until the thought arises, and dwelling on the thought creates the emotion.
Neither is good nor bad, they just each have different results. What is more useful to ponder is:
Are you thinking your thoughts, or are they thinking you?
Most of you are being thought. Some of you are consciousness of the thinking. This is what it means to wake up, to be conscious – to recognise this, to understand this.
Remember, everything you see around you began with a thought. Nothing exists that was not thought of first. In this way, what you think about creates your life – so being conscious of your thoughts and not allowing them to run you means that YOU are creating your life – NOT your automatically-created thoughts.
What do you think it means to have free will? It means that you are free to choose your actions – regardless of what thoughts cascade through your mind. Thoughts are just the sum total of all you have done, been and experienced, and if you are ready to change your experience of your life, then to do this, you need only to pay attention to the thoughts that represent what you want to create now.
This is free will.
Because remember, a thought is not even true, until you decide that it is… and make it true.
So if you’re plagued by thoughts that won’t leave you alone… change the way you react to them. Cease giving them importance and energy and when one arises, just say ‘next’.
This is meditation. This is mastery. This is Yoga.
For practical guidance on meditation, check out James Bryan’s article, How do I begin to meditate?