Meditation and Mind-wandering
Meditation is not about controlling your thoughts; it’s about not letting your thoughts control you. It is training for the mind, much like going to the gym is training for the body. Mind-wandering is a fact of the human condition. When we are trying to accomplish something, and our mind is somewhere else, we waste a lot of energy instead of focusing on the task at hand.
Meditation is for your brain like exercise is for your body. If you train your muscles to increase strength and flexibility, then you will improve your physical performance. You will be stronger and able to respond more quickly. Your muscles strengthen and help your physical body accomplish what it needs to do. If the physical body is strong, it will help you, serve you. If your physical body is weak and you need it to do something, it might not be able to help you; it may be an obstacle to you achieving what you want to do.
The same principle applies to the mind. Meditation makes the mind strong and focused. If your mind is focused, it will function more efficiently; it will be more effective. If our mind isn’t focused, it will be easily distracted. For example, if we have stress, a focused mind will help us solve the issues causing stress. If our mind isn’t focused, the stress may just build, or we may choose behaviors to deal with it that may be self-destructive. If the mind is wandering and not focused, we cannot accomplish what we want to do because we are constantly distracted. The unfocused mind is like the body with no muscle tone.
How does this work? How does meditation make our minds stronger and more focused? Try this exercise:
Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Imagine you are in a beautiful place. Using your imagination helps to quiet the mind. Have a slight smile on your face. When you are smiling, it is easier to quiet you emotions. Breathe naturally and slowly as possible. Now you are ready to start your meditation training. Draw your attention to one point… the image of a flower, a candle flame, a sunset, a full moon…and image that will capture your mind. After you choose an image, don’t change it. Remain focused on the image. As you concentrate on this image, your mind will begin to jump around to all kinds of thoughts. Then you realize you are trying to meditate and your that mind has wandered off to at least ten different thoughts. Then you come back to the image.
This will happen over and over and over. You might think that you are unable to meditate. In reality, the wandering of the mind and then coming back to the meditation object is the process of meditation. If you continue training, over and over, you might realize that your mind is wandering after nine thoughts, then after only 8 or 7, etc. Eventually, you will quickly realize when your mind is wandering. Your mind will be focused on one point instead of wandering. Your mind is stronger and focused.
What about the thoughts that occur during meditation? What if they seem to be important? We can let our mind remember some thoughts while we are meditating, but we just need to acknowledge that thought and come back to the meditation technique. Seemingly important thoughts may arise, but they may just seem important as the mind wants to control your thought process. At any rate, realize that you can choose to continue with the meditation. The profound, important thoughts will come back to you when you complete your meditation exercise. This process of letting go of the spontaneous thoughts that arise and returning to the object of meditation is the way we learn the practice of meditation.
Meditation reduces stress because we train our minds to be focused and in the present moment. We save valuable energy that we can utilize to achieve our goals. We spend less time worrying about the uncertainties of the future or regretting the events of the past. Being focused and more present are vital ingredients for happiness. Mind-wandering is a source of stress and unhappiness. One might think that mind-wandering would be a result of unhappiness, but in reality, it is likely the opposite. The video in the link is about 10 minutes and is a fascinating explanation of the connection between mind wandering and unhappiness.
With meditation practice, your mind will learn to stay focused. You will be able to have less mind-wandering, less stress, less unhappiness, and be more efficient in accomplishing your goals, whether at work, in sports, art, studies, relationships.
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