Part 3 of 3: The last thing that every beginner needs to know is that you will keep thinking during your mindfulness meditation practice and THAT IS OK! In fact, thinking is an important part of the practice.
Mindfulness meditation + Thinking = Good Mindfulness Practice!
I know you don’t believe me. I know you think you have to stop thinking in order to be mindful. You believe you aren’t practicing mindfulness when you’re thinking. It’s a common myth and one that’s really hard to let go of… I imagine this is because we come to mindfulness thinking that our thoughts are the problem and we want to get rid of them!
Mindfulness doesn’t get rid of our thoughts. Mindfulness helps us work with our thoughts in a way that makes them less of a problem. Mindfulness doesn’t make the problem of thinking go away, mindfulness makes friends with thinking and turns it into something we work with – not against.
What if you’re knee was misaligned and really painful because you’d been walking in a way that hurt it. You probably wouldn’t want to cut it off. Instead, you could work with it, re-train how you walk and eventually re-align your knee. This is how mindfulness works with your thoughts. We don’t try to cut them out, we train ourselves to work with them in a better way.
And you don’t have to believe me! This is the best part. To find out for yourself, practice for a while, and experience for yourself what the present moment includes for you. Notice if you have thoughts and experience if you are able to be aware of yourself thinking. Experience how this begins to change your relationship with your thoughts.
(video: 9:44min) “I can’t stop thinking!” is the number 1 complaint I hear when people start practicing mindfulness.
We’re stressed! We want the madness to stop! Doesn’t mindfulness help us calm our minds and let go of thoughts?!
Well yes, and no… Mindfulness helps you change your relationship with your thoughts. It does NOT make them go away. This new relationship is less stressful and more calm.
For most of us, this new relationship takes a bit of explanation to understand. Most instructors know it’s actually more comprehensive for you to experience it than try to explain it to you… which means that before you experience it you’re confused about your goal during practice. You think you’re supposed to stop thinking.
So what are you supposed to be doing? And how will it help? Here are two videos to help you unravel this mystery.
(video: 2:49min) Every 3 months or so I drink a cup of coffee (love the bitter + sweet!)… and then remember why I don’t do it often! I get super jittery, my mind goes 3-million miles an hour and I can’t concentrate! Yikes!
Yesterday, I had this experience while working at a coffee shop, and after struggling for a while I stopped and practiced mindfulness for a few minutes.
Whew! That 3-minutes saved my day! After that I could focus again. I was really thankful to have that tool handy.
Next time you can’t concentrate, take 3-minutes to practice, and see if it helps!
(video 4:26m) In his book, Restful Sleep, Deepak Chopra mentions that when we lay down to sleep the mind and body will bring up all of the things from the day that haven’t been finished… All of the thoughts & feelings you haven’t had time to complete are brought to the surface for finishing. Interrupted conversations, unsent emails, brainstorming ideas, unfinished emotions, aching muscles needing stretching all rise to the surface. Instead of falling asleep, you get going!
This is the opposite of what you want when you want to go to sleep and yet it is natural and best of all, if you relax and just let it happen, all of this will complete and then you can go to sleep.
I realized as I was reading this idea that this happens when we stop to meditate as well. We pause to get calm and instead, our minds race, our emotions well up and our aches and pains come to the fore. We want calm and we get chaos.
As soon as we realize that this is a natural part of resting, this processing of everything that needs to be unwound before we can relax, we can relax as it happens knowing that it will soon be over. If we fight it, getting upset that we’re not getting calm, we’ll be adding more fuel to the fire… we’ll be increasing the amount of thoughts and emotions that are happening and we’ll never relax!
Next time you pause to meditate, and your mind starts racing, notice if it is your mind unwinding and letting go of whatever it needs to let go of so that it can rest. If so, see if you can relax and allow that process happen. If you can, I imagine you will get calm much faster!
And when you feel ready, take a few minutes and simply notice what comes up. Be present to whatever happens.
You may notice yourself…
not wanting to think or feel whatever you’re thinking or feeling. Keep noticing that. Stay with it. Stay present. Remember that whatever you are thinking or feeling will change eventually. EVERYTHING does. And if you stay present with it, and don’t try to change or fix it, it will naturally change (on it’s own) even faster.
You may notice yourself…
diving into the stories around why you are thinking and feeling those things. You may notice yourself adding fuel and building up the pain! Keep noticing that. Stay present, simply observing yourself doing that. It will change on it’s own eventually, especially if you stay present and just notice versus try to change or fix it. And if you do start changing or fixing it, simply notice THAT!
It is the noticing that is the key. The more you can simply notice, the more you allow whatever is here to be here. If you try to change or fix, inevitably you repress it and that locks it into place. Things that we’re repressing, we are holding and thus we can’t let go of them. If you can wait it out, simply observing, you will reach a point where you don’t need to repress any of it and your innate wisdom will surface with the answer for how to solve what ever is happening. It will not feel like repression or denial. You won’t feel that you need to make it stop. Instead, you will see the wisdom of what is happening, the undercurrents and the reasons and often the situation will reveal itself as useful and helpful… it will usually naturally end at that point.
Eventually, you may cultivate the willingness to notice whatever you are thinking and feeling… Not because you like it or want to be thinking or feeling whatever you are thinking and feeling… Simply because it is here. You will stay present because you will know the wisdom of this process.
Compassion for others is an instinct, according to her research, as social animals we’re geared towards helping our community members relieve their suffering. This keeps our survival group strong.
Self-compassion is not instinctive. Instinctively we respond to our own suffering with stress: distress, shame, guilt, fight, fight, freeze, etc.
If we’re going to train compassion for self and others, she suggests that we do both at the same time. Cultivate compassion for others, practicing to improve that natural process, and also include self-compassion in the practice to build that as well.
Watch the video for a brief description of a compassion practice.
(video 4:13min) I’ve been reading research lately that talks about decision fatigue, the idea that over time, say over the course of a day, your ability to make decisions decreases. Essentially, you’re good at making decisions when you start, and then not so good, to bad as you continue.
The metaphor that is often used is that it’s like a muscle, it’s strong at first and then after using it for a while it gets tired and eventually too week to move.
After you rest you’re ready to go again.
This makes lunch breaks, coffee breaks, etc really important! Stop making decisions when you take breaks. Unplug.
If you can’t break for your whole lunch time, take a shorter break. Doing a 2 to 5 minute meditation practice is a great micro-break whenever you need one during the day. Or even a few mindful breaths… look away from your work & take a few.
Studies say you’ll make better decisions after enough rest.
Try it out & see if you agree!
(Video: 4:57min) Ujjaya breathing is a yoga breath that is fun to do because you can actually hear your self breathing! This is great for people who like to focus on sound.
Watch the video for instructions if you want them, and enjoy using this tool during stressful situations. I use it when I’m stressed and I want something else to listen to for a moment besides my speeding train of difficult thoughts.
Using ujjayi breathing a great way to stay engaged in the moment and to give myself some perspective… there are other things in my life right now than this upsetting thing that is happening… like my noisy breath!