Don’t make your thoughts the enemy

One of the most commonly expressed frustrations when practising mindfulness meditation is that ‘I couldn’t control my thoughts’. Thoughts are not the problem; our thoughts only feel like a problem when we are in a non-relaxed  state of being. When we do enter into a state of mindfulness our thoughts don’t disappear, nor do we suddenly enter a state whereby we consciously control our every thought. In a relaxed meditative state our thoughts are still there and they still arise spontaneously but they feel different, they are of a different quality; thoughts that arise from mindfulness tend to be more creative, clearer and more positive.

The trick is to not try and change, control or stop your thoughts as this will simply add further tension to the mind. The most common practice in mindfulness is to focus on something other than your thoughts, such as your breath, and then to continually refocus on the breath each time your mind wanders. This can be an effective technique, however it can also lead to a new internal battle against thought, whereby we are trying harder and harder to force our attention to the breath against the natural and continual flow of our thoughts.

There are two ways of dealing with this to avoid the struggle. One way is to notice and realise that it is perfectly possible and indeed effortless to breathe and think at the same time; we do this all the time, so simply be aware that this is what is happening. This removes the battle between breath and thoughts and also gives your attention more to do as it is occupied with and interested in following two experiences, thoughts and the breath, and so we can sit back and watch the flow of both.

A second way is to simply forget the breath. If your mind is constantly wandering away from the breath then don’t force yourself against that, go with it and follow your thoughts instead. Watch, listen and be interested in each and every thought that emerges in your mind. Have the attitude that you welcome whole heartedly each and every thought. Accept your thoughts exactly as they are and allow them to flow freely through the mind; no battle, no struggle, no longer are our thoughts the enemies of mindfulness.

Whatever is happening right now is the most appropriate experience to be aware of and if that is a constant stream of thoughts then that is what we can choose to be mindful of.

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