We are used to follow our thoughts, just as they come up.
Now, sitting down on our meditation cushion – trying to focus on the breath sensations - thoughts are hijacking our mind, often before we even have the chance to notice them:
“I need to make the laundry…why am I doing this...this is ridiculous…I should use my time better than this way …why did she say this to me.” and so on.
Next we notice the thought [distraction] and redirect our attention to the breath. And again, thoughts are hijacking us...and so on.
The mind is used to be busy the whole day long, from standing up in the morning until we go to bed, our mind is busy talking to us all day.
The mind is simply not used to being quiet.
It is a habitual behaviour which we have established for many years.
And we know very well what happens, if we try to change well established habits.
When we are trying to make a diet, to stop smoking or to establish a daily jogging routine – our mind-body is very good in convincing us pretty soon, that this change of habit is not a good idea.
Changing habits is very energy consuming. It is demanding. If we really, really want it, we need tons of self-discipline to push through, overcome internal resistance and to keep hanging on to it.
It’s the same when we are sitting down on our meditation cushion, trying to establish a daily routine.
It’s not a walk in the park.
Nearly everybody who starts with meditation has to face a hard time in the beginning.
Such is the nature of the untrained mind.
When you are trying to change a well-established habit, your mind-body does not like changes and will try everything to convince you to go back to the old habit.
But guess what.
Actually, this is good news.
Because as soon as you sit down on your meditation cushion and start do direct you attention, you are already working on literally changing some of your brain networks in density and structure. Just as it is with muscles, your mental abilities become stronger, when they are subject to active usage.
Your brain changes especially, when you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. So, stop complaining “that's not for me” or “I can’t do this”. The same minute you sit down on your meditation cushion for practice, changes are already working in your favor.
This is, why every meditation is a good meditation. Even the ones, where you feel bad and you think nothing is working at all.
Considerable effort is what makes the brain learn, grow and transform itself plastically.
Now, what exactly are you learning in this situation?
You are learning a couple of highly valuable sub-skills.
Observing your own thoughts is actually a skill called metacognition, which is a fascinating ability of the human mind. It's a bit like being in two places at the same time. Imagine a basketball game in a sports hall, where you play along and in the same time you watch yourself while playing from the stands.
Metacognition means that we can observe our thoughts and our inner dialogue. Meditation makes us more aware of our inner dialogue.
This helps us to see clear, make better decisions and gain operational control of our minds.
The sub-skills are:
1. Direct your attention to your breath sensations [concentration]
2. Notice Distraction: Become aware of upcoming thoughts [awareness]
3. Re-direct attention to your breath sensations [concentration]
Not to follow your thoughts and feelings but instead re-directing your attention, is going against the stream of you conditioned habitual behavior. This literally changes your brain.
Attentional awareness is a tool to activate or inhibit specific neural networks – leading to structure & density changes in the brain.This is no woo hoo but scientifically proven and well recognized in science.
It’s called neuroplasticity.
But even more. We take these new skills with us into our daily lives. Because if we have to focus on the job, very similar conditions apply.
As the practice progresses, we can generally concentrate better and are less distracted. In times of multimedia and daily stress of change, this is one of the most valuable skills of all.
So, when you are frustrated sitting down on your meditation cushion because you think “meditation does not work for me”,when it almost drives you crazy to stay seated, when you feel tortured by so many thoughts coming up during meditation, you can imagine “this is the very best time for change”.
Knowing, that you are right now in this very moment literally changing your brain for the better, you are rating an uncomfortable situation positively – a little trick that often helps.
As long, as you stay seated on your meditation cushion and you don’t give in the impulse to get up.
When you learn to manage and direct your focus - especially in difficult situations - you can improve virtually every aspect in your life.
Moreover, this practice prevents from limbic hijack of your emotions because it activates the executive functions of your brain [the prefrontal cortex - amongst others]. So, pay attention to whatever triggers unwanted emotional reactions from you.
Your triggers reveal the spot, where meditation can help to step out.
Selfcontrol starts in the small awareness gap between stimulus and response.
Sit down and practice on your meditation cushion every day. Every minute counts. It's worth it.
meditation is mindhack no.1
Disclaimer: While meditation generally is safe, deeper meditation should be learned with a qualified teacher. These instructions are not a substitute for medical or psychological treatment. If you have had major fears, depression or other psychological issues in the past, please consult your therapist or doctor before applying deeper meditation practices.