Sitting down and letting go
There is no trick to meditation. It is a simple process that anybody can do anywhere at any time. It can be done in any position, sitting, standing, lying down, or during activities. You can meditate for a few seconds, minutes, or for hours. The process of meditation involves focusing your attention on your attention. Because attention can be so squirrely, it helps to focus your attention on something more steady like your breath. When your attention jumps to the next most interesting thing in your life, notice the jump and let that interesting thought go, bringing your attention back to your breath. The basic mechanics of meditation are so simple and are so similar to the regular workings of the mind that it is surprising that it has any effect at all on your psyche. When practiced regularly though, it can change your whole world.
The reason meditation is so necessary is because our minds tend to have minds of their own. They churn and churn and constantly come up with new ideas about how things are and how they should be. That gap between how we think things are and how we would like them to be causes us a lot of anguish. We tend to think that the anguish comes from how things actually are, but it comes from how we think. Meditation, taking the time to notice our thoughts as thoughts, gives us the opportunity to relate differently to those thoughts. In meditation we simply notice the thoughts and let them go.
Thoughts have a way of seeming generally true and very important. That is why they are so compelling and hard to let go. Thoughts are also complex and deeply layered, so we have some thoughts that are immediate and simple like, “it’s hot in here” and other thoughts that have taken a lifetime to develop and encompass our identities and entire world view. The little thoughts are easier to let go. You can let those go as soon as you notice them. The big thoughts are too big to notice all at once, so we keep noticing all the little thoughts they churn up for us and let those go. Those thoughts are all the little judgments, good and bad and right and wrong, that we make about other people and ourselves. There is no way to stop all those judging thoughts from coming, which is why it is so important to practice noticing them, sorting them out, and letting them go.
Taking a bit of time every day to meditate can interrupt and rewire our mind’s autopilot. The focused time spent developing awareness of awareness builds the skill of noticing thoughts and letting them go. Instead of automatically thinking and believing self-damaging thoughts, noticing the thoughts as thoughts changes a thought like, “I’m and idiot” into a thought like, “I’m thinking that I’m an idiot”. When we have strong habits of criticizing ourselves and others, noticing the thoughts and letting them go as they arise, can break up these patterns of negativity that cause us such pain.
Meditation itself can be relaxing as we put down our striving minds and work on just being right where we are, just as we are. It is an act of self-acceptance, and an acceptance of all the circumstances going on all around us. When we take a few moments to meditate, we trust that our mind has a great talent for making problems, so we watch it to see what it is up to. As our mind does its thing and we watch it and instead of jumping on every thought we just let them go, the thoughts slow down a little and we can relax a little, despite everything.
There is no magic in meditation, but when we observe our thinking with an attitude of kindness and acceptance, our thinking changes, our mind changes, our world view changes, and we change. It’s transformational, not magic.
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