I've been meditating for many years, but there are still days when I feel like it's something I need to tick of the to do list. On some days, particularly when I'm in the middle of a big project, it can feel hard to put even 10 minutes aside for meditation practice. The driven voice in my head tries to convince me that this practice of pausing and connecting with presence is a waste of time. It's a compelling voice particularly on days when it feels like there are so many urgent things to do. But it's especially on those days, when I manage to recognize those sabotaging thoughts for what they are, that I find so much benefit from meditating.
When I sit to meditate on these days, I immediately notice the tightness in my chest and throat and the underlying agitation of my stress. I notice my mind is spewing out to do lists in a way that makes it nearly impossible to get up and just do it all. Then I see what is happening.
Ah, agitation is here.
It's through making room for meditation that I get to more consciously connect with myself and my state of being and realize that my sense of urgency and drivenness is actually being fueled from a physical state of tension and stress. By the end of my meditation session, I feel the chest open up, the breath become more fluid, my belly soften, and my whole being settle back into a feeling of calm presence. I'm grateful that I have this practice in my life and that it has taught me how to discern between thoughts that are worth listening to vs. thoughts that are psychic garbage which need to be discarded.
The gift of meditation is that it has taught me how to relate to my thoughts in a completely revolutionary way. I can't believe this education isn't mandatory from primary school. I wonder how my life may have been different with this discerning lens on my inner experience. Through the practice of meditation I have come to realize and understand that thoughts can be likened to having a radio on in the background of your mind, and sometimes the channels that you're tuned into are full of rubbish. The difference is that when you're listening to a radio if there's a channel you don't like, you can easily fix it by changing the station. However, for many of us, when it comes to our thought stream, we sit there tuned in and immersed in a toxic running commentary without changing the station.
Until I learned the practice of mindfulness meditation I was a prisoner of my own thoughts. When you believe that all the thoughts you have are the truth of the matter, your possibilities can be very limited by limiting beliefs and self-stories. If we take all our thoughts as authorities on the matter, we stay trapped in pre-existing beliefs that could be obstructing our full potential.
As Gandhi stated:
"Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."
So how do you know which thoughts to trust? It's usually the negative thoughts that have a particular power to affect our destiny. So next time you are having a thought which in some way is self critical, judgmental, worried or stressed, take a mindful moment, pause, and ask yourself if this thought is supporting you to be the person you want to be, and live in the way you want to live. Recognize what emotion is below the thought that might be driving that type of thinking. Is there fear, overwhelm, stress, hurt, anxiety, shame or anger? By getting to the root of the emotion behind the thought you can then make wiser decisions about how to respond to what is triggering that emotion, rather than stay captive to unproductive thought loops.
Four steps to finding greater emotional freedom through mindfulness
1. Notice when you are having a thought that is negative or creating emotional discomfort.
2. Ask yourself, is this thought moving me towards or away from what I value and how I want to be living?
3. If you discover the thought is moving you away from who you want to be and how you want to live in the world, then simply let the thought go and unhook from the toxic radio station in your mind that is sending you unhelpful messages. Realize that this thought, is just a thought and not an authority.
4. Take a moment to bring compassion to yourself as you recognize and uncover the underlying emotion that is fueling these negative, unhelpful thought streams.
5. Remind yourself that the nature of the mind is to think. It is constantly producing thoughts, some of which are creative and inspired and others which are holding you captive and bringing you down. Realize that you don't have to believe every thought that comes into your mind. Mindfulness, that discerning capacity to be aware of what is happening from moment to moment, helps you guard your own mind, carefully choosing which thoughts you are letting influence your choices and life.
Learn the skills of mindfulness by registering for the Mindful in May global mindfulness challenge and help raise money to transform the lives of those in need in developing countries. Register before April 30th and you'll receive a one month daily online program including audio meditation downloads and exclusive videos with leading global experts in the field.