Using Meditation To Hit Pause On Overthinking
Human kind is enduring an epidemic – one that has plagued us for hundreds of thousands of years. Knowing not race, religion, history, or geography – this epidemic is one of thought.
It is the tendency of the mind to fall into compulsive, repetitive patterns.
Cyclical thought patterns rob us from being in the flow of the present moment, where all ease and enjoyment flourishes. Instead, incessant thinking keeps us in a state of expectation and worry about the future, or regret and resentment about the past.
Simply put, these broken-record-type thoughts create stress.
There is no quick-fix pill a Western MD can prescribe to vanish the dis-ease created by an excessively active mind. The only cure requires our own concerted efforts (i.e. hard work) and a longitudinal outlook towards recovery (i.e. don’t expect massive change overnight).
Lucky for us, there is a tried and tested method to heal us from the afflictions of compulsive thinking: meditation.
In the quiet stillness (or better yet, in the not-so-quiet stillness) of meditation, we attune our attention inward and watch the habits of our mind. By doing this, we observe where our thoughts gravitate most often.
That these thoughts sweep in like a riptide during mediation – wrenching us from the shore of a peaceful, observant, and nonattached mind – is a dead giveaway that these thoughts have the exact same effect in our daily lives. They keep us from being present. And they keep us from enjoying each moment.
The following meditation exercise will help us retrain our brains to be less like a song stuck on repeat, and more like the steady and fluid rhythms of a jazz musician playing to her own musical and moment-to-moment whims.
Find a comfortable seat and with a tall spine, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath and observe your thoughts as if watching them through a pane of one-way glass.
When a thought comes in that abruptly pulls you from this looking-from-the-outside-in perspective, make note of it. Don’t react to the thought in any other way.
Once you realize your mind has strayed, remind yourself to come back to the other side of the one-way glass and continue peacefully observing your thoughts.
Do this for a few minutes. Five minutes is sufficient. Ten is better. But less is ok too if five feels like a tall order.
After completing this meditative exercise, reflect on the thought patterns that swept you away most swiftly. The information you glean from this reflection will reveal the areas of your life that your mind has constructed obsessive, stress-producing patterns around.
Do not become discouraged by this information. Instead, use it to empower yourself. Use it to become aware of when these thoughts creep in during your day and pull you away from being fully present in whatever it is you are doing. Without judging yourself when your mind becomes over-active, gently refocus your attention on the moment. Just like during the exercise.
Keep coming back to this exercise a few times a week, or even every day if you can. As your capacity to simply watch your own repetitive thoughts (rather than becoming absorbed by them) grows in your practice, it will also grow in your life.
While there is no perfect immunity from this epidemic of thought, with regular prevention practices – like this meditation exercise ¬¬– we are much less vulnerable to the many forms of dis-ease it causes.