Meditation is the ability to maintain your focus and not get carried away in your thoughts. There is no rule that says that you have to sit down and close your eyes to meditate – that’s only the beginner’s phase which allows you to be able to achieve better focus.
However, remaining in the present moment and achieving mental peace is something we need to be able to do throughout the whole day. And this is meditation in movement. The ability to steer clear of intrusive thoughts that ruin our focus and make us feel miserable when we want to remain calm and peaceful.
Many would tell you that you should ‘stop thinking’ while meditating, or that you should ‘stop thinking’ when you feel overwhelmed, and this is something that many try to achieve while going about with their days. However, the more you try to stop thinking, the worse your state of mind becomes.
The moment you focus on your thoughts and try to stop them, they become louder and messier, until you get carried away and scattered throughout the present, future, and past. The technique which we direly need in order to achieve a peace of mind and a mindful state has been long associated with the ‘ability not to think anything at all.’
While the final result is indeed not holding on to your thoughts (and thus not think), eradicating thought from your mind is simply impossible. So, many fail to perceive the steps to becoming more focused and try to jump to the final state of ‘not thinking.’
In short, this effort is a living hell, and you will know it if you have tried it. So, here are some tips that will help you to achieve this state of being in the present moment and being at peace.
Accept that thought is as natural as sight and hearing
You can’t make your mind stop thinking. That’s like making your ears stop listening, or your eyes stop seeing. Your brain is an organ which is designed to generate thoughts, so if you want to stop thinking, you should perhaps remove it.
In other words, you should accept that thoughts are natural and important. Achieving mindfulness doesn’t mean that you should stop thinking – it’s completely different. So, accept your thoughts and appreciate your ability to think.
Embrace your thoughts, don’t judge them
Reaching the state of a quiet mind doesn’t mean that you have stopped thinking. It means you have truly learned to accept and embrace your thoughts as a part of you. Once you have learned to accept them, your mind will ironically quiet down.
What I have used as an analogy which helped me to achieve mental clarity is that of the running river. Imagine that your thoughts are a river in your mind. You can sit next to it and observe its beauty, or you can jump in it and fight the current.
Not being able to accept that your thoughts are a part of you means that you are jumping in the river, fighting the current, and trying to build a dam with your bare hands. Instead, observe your thoughts and allow them to pass by. You can’t fight them, but you can make them go on their way.
Act more than you analyze
Analysis involves a lot of thought, and sometimes we simply don’t need so much of it. Once you have decided to do something, start focusing on the action rather than on analyzing every single bit of what you’re doing.
When you start analyzing, your mind starts jumping from the future to the past and it tends not to stay too much in the present. The thing is, that much analysis doesn’t allow you to tackle the challenges that are tightly related to the present.
So, define a purpose in your actions and act toward that purpose without putting too much thought into things that are out of the present moment. This way, you will steer clear of worries, stress, and unwanted scenarios. The present is what matters, so focus on it.
Focus on what you’re doing
Just like in meditation, everything you do revolves around a primary action. In meditation, that’s the focus on your breath or on saying a mantra. The thing you need to do is to direct your attention to the thing you are doing and get your focus back there whenever it tries to drift away in the river of thoughts.
Achieving focus may prove especially difficult when you are doing things that are habitual and automated, like taking a shower, using the bathroom, eating, walking, you name it. It’s because your mind has accepted these things to follow a pattern that is recurring every time you do them – so it has the space to throw in random thoughts and babble until you have lost the energy to think clearly.
Here are some tips that could help you maintain your focus:
-Remind yourself of what you’re doing. For example, if you’re washing your hands, you could repeat in your head that you’re washing your hands.
-Take your focus out of your head and turn it on your senses. Become aware of how your skin feels, the warmth, the sounds, the smells. Become aware of everything.
-Try to do things differently. Zen masters have a technique of doing things in slow motion. While it sounds easy, you might have a hard time doing it the way you want to do it and you will have to focus on your actions more carefully.
Help your focus return when it drifts away
Your focus will not be able to stay solid for a very long time at the beginning. This is true for any kind of focused-attention activity. So, allow it to drift away and then gently return it to whatever you were focusing on.
If you look at it through the running water analogy, imagine that you took a sip from the river of thoughts and now you are getting back to your peaceful state. Don’t allow yourself to fight the current of thoughts. Instead, observe it and let it pass while you focus on the thing you need to be doing.
You need to accept yourself fully to become bigger than you are. That goes for anything, any emotion, any habit, any thought that seems to be working against you. The truth is, none of these things are working against you – when you accept them and stop fighting the current, you will learn that these things are natural and normal.