This post was also published on Whole Hearted Medicine- a website offering luxury self care retreats for doctors to promote reflection on personal and professional wellbeing.
What happens when we meditate?
Does our mind magically clear of all thoughts?
Do we all of a sudden gain some super human ability to have a mind completely empty of any thought, emotion or angst?
Meditation (while arguably an amazing process and skill) doesn't in and of itself give us the ability to clear the mind. The mind is never and probably will never be empty of thoughts.
The 'problem' is not in fact the existence of thoughts, it's the attachment to them.
So if we can't clear our mind of thoughts, why do we meditate???
Meditation helps us to begin the process of disentangling ourselves from our thoughts.
Cogito, ergo sum.
So, are we the owner of these thoughts?
Or the subject?
And if we own the thoughts, can we control them?
I certainly can't. Thoughts tend to pop into my head at the most inopportune of times.
With all this power of thought, it can be difficult not to get caught up in it all.
To be 'owned' by the thoughts.
So, if not ownership of thoughts. Then perhaps we are the experiencer of thoughts?
This is where we must begin to explore the concept of an observer vs an examiner.
An observer is only there to take in each moment as it appears. No planning for the next move, no attachment to the end outcome.
For most of us however, we examine our thoughts. Critiquing the content, trying to plan their trajectory.
Trying to control the uncontrollable.
And with this illusion of complete control, that we can forcefully remove unwanted thoughts from our mind- comes angst when we find we are sadly unable to do that.
Through meditation, we learn how to bear witness to these thoughts (and thoughts about thoughts) without the need to step in and change them.
We learn how to step back from the stream of thought. How to watch it evolve.
How to be curious about how these thoughts often take us to the same destinations within ourselves. The points of fear, or anxiety, or self loathing. Or points of happiness too.
How thoughts of happy past experiences, our children or family might be tools we find that we naturally use to try and 'break the pattern' of more negative thoughts.
How we unconsciously feel that some thoughts are inherently negative and some are positive.
That we find ourselves actively seeking out perceived positive thoughts over the ones we feel are negative.
All this involvement in the thoughts comes from our own illusion that we can and should be able to control them.
What if instead, we learn how to be with our thoughts rather than trying to control them?
I'm not talking about simply sitting back passively and never formulating an original thought again. Just waiting for thoughts to pop into your head only ever watching like a cloud floating by.
I'm talking about adding a tool to your toolkit that allows you to DECIDE which thoughts you want to engage with and formulate into ideas and which ones you want to simply watch.
By learning how to step back from the thoughts, we give ourselves space between the thought itself and what we want to do about it.
We are able to ACT rather than REACT.
This is what meditation- both in the formal sense as well as the more informal practices of mindful awareness- give us.
And while daily mindful awareness is a wonderful skill to gain in it self, committing to a practice of both informal and formal mindfulness (or other meditative practices) is how we cultivate and build upon this skill over time.
A consistent and compassionate meditation practice is the 'gym training' for the muscle of our minds.
Emily is an always learning, forever dreaming, list making mind mapper who loves cheese.