Lately, so many people find themselves trapped in stressful, anxiety-laden thoughts. “I can’t stop worrying” or “I can’t stop thinking and go to sleep” are common refrains. The world seems to be on fire and our minds along with it. If only we could stop the train of endless and troubling thoughts! Many of us try, often with little success. Mostly we choose techniques that amount to flailing in the ocean and going under.
Ever tried to meditate with the intent of achieving a state of “no thought”? How did that turn out for you? If you’re like most people, it went about as well as someone being told not to think about a pink elephant. The very act of trying to not think probably filled you with nothing but thought, including such thoughts as “No thought no thought, stop thinking, sh*t I’m still thinking!”.
Here’s how to clear your head for less stress, more peace, and a calmer heart.
Diversion: The Magician’s Gambit
To actually clear your head, thinking and willpower won’t work. After all, you can’t cure a state of consciousness by using the very means that perpetuates the state. Instead, you divert your mind and that diversion teaches a new skill while bringing relief from the deluge of our thoughts. Basically no thought becomes a by-product.
The technique is akin to a good magician distracting his audience so that their focus goes where the magician wants and we miss the way the trick is accomplished. We only experience the outcome.
Various meditation techniques that take less than 5 minutes can act as slight of hand to distract the mind and produce no thought.
Here are 3 simple techniques that work. Anyone with a mediation background might recognize them but usually we only focus on the outcome, thinking about whether we have reached it or not, rather than focusing on the experience. When we obsess on the outcome, we miss out on the real strength of the techniques. The doing is everything and the outcome is merely the byproduct.
#1 – Three Deep Breaths
Take three deep breaths. Feel each one deeply, don’t do them quickly or with cursory intent. Fill your lungs as deep as you can and exhale all the air that you can.
Just the act of focusing on three deep in and out breaths brings respite from painful, stressful, or anxious thoughts – if only for a few seconds. But those few seconds train the mind to let go and refocus on the immediacy of the moment. As a result, the mind briefly clears.
Will this save you from a mind accustomed to worrying or being anxious all the time? Probably not, but it opens a gap in its programming that you can exploit to learn new habits and move forward.
#2 – 10 Counts of Breath
Similarly, a tried and true technique to get us out of our heads and into our bodies – thereby clearing the mind – is watching our in and out breaths ten times. Here thought is minimal. We follow and think “in” and “out” plus whatever number that breath is from 1 to 10.
This anchors the mind, training it to detach from worries, concerns, obsessions and everyday life. Being free of those emotional and spinning thoughts clears the mind and lets in peace and relief.
The point is not to reach 10. You can count to 5 or just repeat 1 if you want. The doing is the point. The technique is training, not an end in itself. When we think reaching 10 is the point, we have missed the mark. We are to let go of even the idea of “success” and be present in the breath. Start here. It contains everything you need to be at peace.
#3 – Feel Your Hands
Another technique to clear the mind is to put your attention on your hands or even just one hand. Feel your palms. Feel the sensation of energy and aliveness there. Situate your consciousness on your palms as if only that existed. Feel it with the same attention you use to monitor your stomach when hungry or full.
This is awareness training without words. We are feeling the energy of life in us. We aren’t naming it or examining it like we were going to write an essay on it. We just sit and feel it. It’s like a nice breeze on our face that we notice. When we do this, again thought naturally slows or even fades away. In that moment of relief from the spinning commentary of our minds, we might feel peaceful, relaxed or freed.
Don’t Fight the Mind
When we divert our focus to observation of breath or the aliveness of our hands or some other part of our being, we naturally turn off the discursive and hectic mind. This is an aspect of letting go. Thought may intrude shortly but for a brief moment we have cleared our minds and found an island of peace within ourselves. If we can do it once, we can do it again. With practice, we become skilled enough at it that our minds and their problematic thoughts no longer run our lives.
There is no mental suppression or forcefulness, no fighting or resistance. We are not wrestling our minds to make it stop thinking. Instead, we turn our focus elsewhere with techniques that use a different part of ourselves than typical thinking. This clears the dross. We might still think but the content and energy has changed. Stress and anxiety bleed away. Peace, relief, calm and tranquility rush into the space left behind. This is a natural state of being and we are returning to it.
Be like the magician distracting your mind into a behavior that better serves your sanity. These techniques are stepping stones on the road to a calmer, happier you. Take up the walk. Your improved emotional health, overall well-being and concentration will thank you.
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