Meditation Versus Thinking

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The good news is that if you are capable of thinking and breathing you are capable of meditation. One way to describe meditation is as focused thinking that is consciously practiced in the present moment. Try to think about the last time you had an important decision in front of you or about some life issue you faced. You probably thought a great deal about it.

But maybe it almost seemed like your thoughts were controlling you. You may have obsessed about your issue, unable to get it out of your head. Your thoughts may have gone in all directions. You may have found yourself starting out focusing on one aspect of the problem only to drift to another. You may have left the present entirely, caught up in a future possibility and imagining yourself there, or stuck on a past event, having it replay over and over in your head.

The practice of meditation puts you back in the driver’s seat. A state of equilibrium is created between you and your thoughts where you don’t try to control them or keep them from bubbling up into your conscious awareness, but you also maintain your conscious awareness that you are an observer who can channel and direct these thoughts as you see fit. It’s kind of like surfing a wave. Your thoughts are the wave and you are the surfer. You can’t stop the wave from forming or crashing but you can expertly ride its face and you can choose if you want to surf it or wait for another.

The best way to start meditating is just by concentrating on your breathing. This practice automatically brings you into the here and now. If you are not completely present you are not meditating. When you are aware of your breathing you are aware of being alive in the present moment. Think of mindful breathing as the scales that will allow you to compose intricate and beautiful music. Without the scales composing the music is impossible. When I started walking meditation I had to consciously remind myself to breathe deeply and evenly, to concentrate on my breath as I walked. Now mindful breathing while walking is second nature to me, as natural as walking itself. You are not preoccupied with putting one foot in front of the other when you’re walking, you just do it naturally. Soon your breathing will be the same way. As soon as my feet hit the pavement my breath changes, and sometimes I don’t even realize it until a few blocks have passed. This has probably been the great paradox for me as my practice has evolved. After a while you don’t have to be mindful about being mindful. Even as I sit here typing my breathing is deep and rhythmic.

Once you reach a state where you are mindfully breathing all the time your thinking will take on a different quality. You inhabit each thought fully but also know you are separate from all of them. You allow a thought to arise of its own volition yet you are aware of it the moment it does and you are able to influence which direction it goes and how long it stays. Instead of a push and pull between you and your thoughts there is just mindful breathing and awareness. Many of the ideas for the articles I write bubble up to the surface while I’m mindfully walking, which is any time I walk anywhere, or when I’m lying on my mat in dead man’s pose at the end of yoga. I let them come, follow them where they lead, and mindfully consider their ramifications and possibilities. I don’t try to force anything but I also don’t let these thoughts run away from me. These paradoxes are what makes meditation meaningful and rewarding. No matter who you are or what your situation is, if you can breathe and think you can meditate.