When I meditate I focus on my out-breath. When I first begin my meditation practice, I pay attention to the qualities of the out-breath, the color, the texture, etc….
After getting settled, usually about 5 minutes, I start to pay attention more to the space around the out-breath rather than the qualities of the breath itself. As my mind starts thinking, which it always does, I imagine popping the thought bubble with a feather and say to myself, “thinking.”
When I first began meditating several years ago, I would label things within my meditation as they happened. This labeling was identified by the sense perception I was experiencing. When I would hear a car go by and my attention was drawn to it, I would silently say to myself “hearing.” When I noticed I was lost in thought, I would silently say to myself “thinking” and then bring myself back to watching the out-breath.
After several years of meditating this way, I noticed my tone within the labeling started to feel and sound like scolding. Over the past several months I have introduced the practice of using only the label of thinking. However, I not only label it “thinking, ” but I do so while simultaneously thinking of it as a bubble and popping it with a feather. The process of popping the thought bubble with a feather feels compassionate and less militant in contrast to my previous practice. But, it does take longer to come back to the breath because it’s slightly more involved.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because, with this understanding of my practice, here is what my meditation looks like on some days.
Breathing out, pop, breathing out, pop, pop, pop, pop, breathing out, pop, breathing out, pop, pop, pop, breathing, pop, out, pop, pop, breath, pop, breathing out, pop, breathing in, oops, pop, pop, breathing, pop, in, breathing out, pop, pop, pop – DEEP BREATH and start again.
So many people have shared with me that they cannot sit down and meditate because they cannot stop thinking. I have been meditating for years, and I have days when I cannot stop thinking, and my meditation looks like a confused, random popcorn commercial with no direction or meaning. Sometimes it is funny, albeit it is usually after my meditation time is over. Other times it is so uncomfortable to sit and watch and do nothing the thoughts say to do. I watch my habits as I become restless. I feel the internal need and urge to escape and give up. But, I sit still, and watch, and feel while time after time I come back to the out-breath — even if it’s just for a second before the thoughts start “popping” in and out.
Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts it’s about seeing them happening and not reacting to them or being driven by them because you are using your will to just sit still while they go on. All day long, while living life, it is easy to be reactive to our thoughts. Meditation for only 5 minutes or 10 minutes or however long you choose is an opportunity to watch your thoughts and make a choice in that moment to not react to them. Instead, you decide to sit still, come back to the out-breath and start again, and again, and again, and again.
(photo by Josh Adamski)