“I can’t stop my mind from running!!”
This is the most common frustration I hear about meditation.
First, some good news: if you have this difficulty, you are not alone. Now that you know that, you can take the pressure off.
But the question remains, how to quiet the mind?
Our brains are full of potential. Unlocking this potential requires concentration. Concentration is like the driver of an Indy race car. The car itself has a lot of potential, but without a driver it is really a big, heavy paperweight.
The easiest path to cultivating concentration is by practicing focus. Focus, also called thought control, is developed by directing all thoughts to a single object or task until all other distractions are released.
How does focus help quiet the mind? As I said earlier, the mind stills when completely engaged on a single task. Through regular use, focus strengthens concentration and quiets the constant churning of the brain. Not sure? Try these two experiments.
1. Set a timer for one minute. Come to a comfortable seated position; spine stacked tall, head on neck and take a couple of breaths to relax. Hold up your left hand and look at your palm. Just look at it until the timer goes off. Simple yes? How easy or difficult was it to hold your concentration on the task of looking at your hand? Did your mind wander? A lot? Most likely.
2. Set a timer for one minute. Stand with your feet hip width apart; stack your spine, head on neck and take a couple of breaths. Stretch your left arm straight out to your side at shoulder height. Touch your nose with your right middle finger, right elbow at shoulder height. Move both hands at the same time and speed so that the left middle finger comes to your nose and the right arm is stretched out. Make sure that the left hand touches the nose exactly as the right arm becomes straight. Now switch again and continue until the timer goes off. Did your mind wander? Was it easier to concentrate with less noise?
Most people find that their minds wandered quickly and often during exercise one and considerably less in exercise two. Why? Because the simple task was, well, simple; therefore, your mind was not fully engaged which allowed it to wander off. The second task required more attention which left less room for distractions.
The easiest way to build concentration is by focusing on a single task. I recommend that you start with your breath. Set a timer for three to five minutes to start. Sit or lie comfortably and bring your attention to your breathing without changing it; leave it natural. Begin to count your breaths; count from 1 to 21. When you get to 21, begin again at 1. Continue until the timer goes off.
Did your mind wander? Other thoughts go racing through? How many times did you lose count and have to start over? Remember to assess how you did without judgment and be willing to try again (and again and again…..) Only then will you build true concentration.
Repeat the breath counting exercise and notice how your mind stays on task for longer periods of time and wanders less often.
Now it’s your turn to talk to us. How’s your meditation practice coming along? Got a question on meditation or mindfulness you want answered? Click on comments to leave us some love.