When we want inner peace, how to stop the mind getting in the way?
**‘Peace of mind’ is a contradiction in terms, as the mystic, Osho, puts it. ** You might have noticed that the mind is a compulsive commentator, forever poking its nose into all that we experience.
The mind rarely gives us a break, other than when we are asleep. Yes, it is certainly helpful a lot of the time but the problem comes when the mind takes over; when, rather than us using the mind, we are being run by it. Think you are master of your mind? Try this small experiment….
With your eyes closed, for the next few moments stop your mind. Don’t allow one thought to intrude. Put your total attention into finding peace.
The odds are that the more you tried to put the brakes on your mind, the busier and noisier it became. That’s not because it is impossible to be serene but because trying to be peaceful by stopping the mind is not the best way to go about it. Suppressing your thoughts and feelings only creates a fight within you. Here are four suggestions that can be helpful….
Understand the mechanics of the mind
To know inner peace we need to move into a different region from the mental – that of consciousness. In other words: We need to move from thinking to being. For that, we don’t need to control, ‘tame’ or stop the mind but to understand it and familiarise ourselves with its nature.
Watch your own mind for a few moments and you’ll see that it’s a conveyer belt of ideas, theories, arguments, prejudices, doubts, beliefs, dreams, imagination, aspirations and the whole gamut of feelings, from joy to despair.
In some respects the mind is like a child. It’s always on the go. It’s also inquisitive; constantly wanting your attention and to be part of whatever you are doing. If you are dealing with a very active child, as an intelligent parent you don’t try to stop its energy. You understand that its constant movement and its curiosity are natural but that they can be channelled into some form of creativity or physical activity – even if that’s just running around the house. You can do something similar when your mind is on overdrive
Redirect the energy that fuels the mind
Rather than trying to suppress the constant stream of thoughts, redirect the energy that fuels them.
For example, you may be ruminating about an important interview or feeling anxious about some test results. When you become aware of how manic your mind is only making the situation worse, find a more useful outlet for some of the energy – for example, running, swimming, playing tennis or dancing. Even cleaning can provide an effective and practical release of mental and physical tension.
If your mind is active but your physical energy is very low, if you are in pain or confined to bed, you will need another option. The method known as ‘Gibberish’ is simple and effective. It is speaking nonsense sounds and may be something you remember from childhood. (If there is a child in your immediate life invite them to gibber with you: children love it and also make great teachers!) This is how it goes….
Find a place and time where you will be undisturbed (and where you won’t disturb others) for 10 minutes or longer. Now, with your eyes closed (so nothing outer will distract) just start making nonsense sounds – literally, gibberish. It’s like speaking a language that you don’t know; without any conscious effort using words that you are making up as you go along. Let the sounds come out in a continuous stream and make them as loud as you want to. (If there are other people in the same room as you – patients or their visitors – just do it under your breath.)
At the same time, if your health and where you are allows it, move your body about: wave your arms, stamp your feet, and move your head about. Actively involve your facial muscles too: exaggerating your normal expressions, grimacing and contorting your face in whatever way you can.
You may feel a little self-conscious at first but once you get into the swing of it that can be forgotten as you start to enjoy it. Gibberish is really just a form of consciously letting off steam, without upsetting anyone, and it’s very freeing.
Follow Gibberish with sitting or lying down, still with your eyes closed. You’ll find that your mind is more silent than usual and that you feel relaxed and peaceful.
Befriend your mind
The mind is used to orchestrating your life and meditating is a voluntarily move away from its influence. So, whenever you are about to meditate – and this is particularly helpful when just starting out – gently let the mind know that it can take a rest. And reassure it that you will return to it later. (We all need to know we’re needed!) You’ll find that your body and mind will benefit from that break. See below: Using the mind to go beyond the mind
Mindfulness: the power from within
Another key to not letting the mind take you over is simply to watch it, to observe it (known as mindfulness or ‘witnessing’): then you’ll become aware that that constant stream of thoughts and feelings is separate from you. It is like a river flowing by which you can observe, just as you might sit by a river and notice the flotsam that is carried along in it.
In this way you are not suppressing your thoughts but you are also not getting engaged in them. Some people say ‘I want to meditate but my mind is so strong!’ In fact it’s just our getting engaged with it that creates that feeling and which energises thoughts. Withdraw your cooperation and you disempower them. Not only do we get engaged with thoughts we become identified with them, so much so that we can’t imagine being without the mind. And the reality is: We can only really be without it!
By and by, as you continue practising mindfulness you’ll have the felt understanding that you are not your thoughts: they are manufactured by your mind but they are not you. You are the subject, the observer: your thoughts or feelings are the object, that which is observed.
Once you’ve had this realisation – that you are not your thoughts (nor any of your feelings or physical sensations) – you do not need to be a victim of your mind or of your body anymore.
For more on mindfulness, see also ‘What’s the difference between thinking-feeling, mindfulness and consciousness?’.
Using the mind to go beyond the mind
We’ve looked at four different ways to prevent the mind getting in the way of finding inner peacefulness: by understanding its nature, befriending it, releasing or redirecting the energy that feeds it, and by impassively watching it.
Given that it is so resourceful, can the mind also play a positive role in meditation?
The short answer is yes! The mind is not necessarily antagonistic to meditation; in fact some methods utilise the mind to take us into meditation. For example, visualisation methods use our power of imagination. And there are other methods use chanting or counting.
The mind can also be an ally when we are just starting a meditation practice. For example, you decide to start meditating for 40 minutes each morning. As that time comes closer your mind finds reasons why not to: you can’t afford the time, you are too restless, and so on. Rather than giving into your mind or trying to ignore it, get it on your side.
For example, you might say to it: ‘How about if I commit to 5 minutes each morning for the first week?’ The mind will probably cooperate because ‘What’s 5 minutes, after all?’ After that week, perhaps you reach another agreement with the mind: You propose doubling your meditation time. Again, the mind feels taken into account and so you continue to up the length of your meditation until you reach the 40 minutes you were originally planning on.
The mind can be helpful, too, in keeping your motivated.
For example, if your resolve to meditate today falters, remind yourself how good you felt after yesterday’s sitting. Remind yourself that then, too, you’d wavered, but you’d gone ahead anyway and meditated, and you were so glad you did.
You can also recall other instances in your life when you had started a new discipline, such as going to the gym or eating a healthy diet, and were able to maintain it in spite of your mind trying to tempt you off track.