Finding Silence in a Busy Mind

February 12, 2010

Lyn emailed me about a statement on our Difficulty Meditating website page that she found confusing. This blog post is an attempt to explain it, but I’m not sure that I can anymore than I can explain the taste of an apple to someone who has never tasted one. Here’s the statement she found confusing:

“Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware of the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts.”

The statement refers to the experience of silence in a meditative state, and a meditative state is very difficult to describe in words. It’s about the space between words, the space between thoughts. It’s about becoming unhooked from thoughts and concepts so that the background of consciousness in which everything is experienced becomes apparent.

Trying to describe this experience is like trying to describe space. It’s easy to describe the objects in space – a tree, an apple, a human being – but how do you describe space itself to someone?  Everything exists in space – it’s that no-thing in which every “thing” is! How you put words to that?

Our awareness could be thought of as the space in which all of our experiences take place. It is an “aware space”. It is there all of the time, but we don’t put our attention on it. Our attention is focused on the experiences, rather than the awareness underlying the experiences. Meditation can bring about an awareness of awareness. And the nature of that awareness could be described as silence. As we disengage from the meaning of thoughts and they are allowed to flow through, the experience is one of silence along with thoughts. The gap between thoughts, the space in which they happen, is being noticed.

Does the statement make sense to you? How would you explain it to someone?

Negative thoughts in meditation

December 9, 2009

Someone taking our online course asked about negative thoughts in meditation. His concern was whether letting them go would release them into the universe and bring negative results back to him. My answer was absolutely not! When I say “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, that includes all thoughts, positive or negative. To allow the mind to expand and relax in meditation, we have to release it from its usual focus. During meditation we give the mind a break. We let go of the need to understand, analyze, evaluate and so on. We don’t need to pay attention to what our thoughts are about. The type of thoughts we have doesn’t matter. It’s not necessary to monitor our thoughts in any way and weed out the “wrong kind”. All thoughts are equal in meditation!

How we handle thoughts in meditation and outside of meditation is different. Outside of meditation the meaning of our thoughts is important, but even then I feel people become overly concerned about “negative” thoughts. So often people people struggle with them. They fear that negative thoughts or angry feelings will bring them harm and this can cause a lot of suffering. I’ve seen people become tense and afraid when negative thoughts come, trying hard to replace them with something positive. It becomes a war within.

From my perspective, it’s not only frustrating to try to eliminate negative thoughts, it’s futile! Life is a mixture of positive and negative. We are a mixture of positive and negative. Trying to change that is trying to change the basic structure of things. Can you get rid of one side of a coin or one pole of a magnet?

I don’t mean to say that how we think isn’t important. Of course, we’d rather have a positive, uplifting perspective on things, and our attitudes and perspectives definitely do affect us. There can be a value in becoming more aware of our mental patterns, particularly our underlying beliefs and attitudes toward life. When we start to see ourselves more clearly, we are sometimes able to bring about shifts in our way of being and seeing things. But bringing about positive changes goes much deeper than simply trying to stop negative thoughts. It involves the ability to relax into who we are and accept ourselves as we are now — the positive and the negative. It’s a kind of paradox that when we can truly accept ourselves all the way just as we are now, we may very well morph into more compassionate people. That is the natural result of self-acceptance.

Don’t Believe Anything You Think (in Meditation)

December 15, 2008

When I first read the book title “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”, I found myself laughing. It created a delightful, meditative moment. I was driving and saw it on a bumper sticker. Probably I was caught up in some story about this or that going on in my mind, and seeing the bumper sticker brought a sudden, refreshing perspective.

Given the shift those words created, I wondered how they applied to meditation. With a change in just one word, I realized they apply perfectly to meditation, at least the style of meditation you’ll hear on our podcast. When it comes what we think in meditation, don’t believe anything! The way I’ve always put it is “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”. “Don’t believe anything you think” works just as well!

Meditation gives the mind the opportunity to disengage, like shifting gears into neutral. Meaning keeps the mind engaged. Believing what we are thinking and that it is important keeps us involved in thoughts. Of course that’s going to happen in meditation. It’s the habit of the mind. But in meditation we have the opportunity to let that go. Learning to let go of thoughts — to not resist them and to not purposefully follow them — is the art of meditation.

Years ago I did the Course in Miracles (the year of daily exercises in the Workbook). Although it doesn’t say it’s a course in meditation, doing the workbook exercises is a way to learn to meditate. What’s interesting is that the very first lesson has to do with letting go of meaning. “Nothing I see means anything” is the title of Lesson One. At the time I did the lesson, it made absolutely no sense to me. I couldn’t imagine what the exercise would achieve. Only recently did it occur to me that it related to the ability to allow the mind to disengage from its usual habits and surface appearances. And only now as I am writing this do I see how it was the first step in what amounted to a course in meditation.

So if you find yourself struggling with thoughts in meditation, just remember — don’t believe anything you think!

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