I've been meditating for many years, but there are still days when I feel like it's something I just need to check off my to-do list.
There's a voice in my head that tries to convince me that stopping to pause and connect with presence is a waste of my time. But it's on those days in particular, where I manage to recognize those sabotaging thoughts for what they really are. This is the essence of meditation.
Whenever I sit to meditate I immediately notice the tightness in my chest and throat. I become aware of the underlying agitation of my stress. It's when I make room for meditation, that I consciously connect with myself and my state of being. I realize that my sense of urgency and drivenness is actually being fueled from a physical state of tension and stress.
And by the end of any given meditation session, I feel my chest open up, my breath deepen, my belly soften and my whole being settle back into a feeling of calm presence. I'm grateful that this practice has taught me how to discern between thoughts that are worth listening to, versus thoughts that are psychic garbage which need to be discarded.
I've realized that thoughts can be likened to having a radio on in the background of your mind, and sometimes the channels that you're tuned into are full of rubbish or static. For many of us, when it comes to our constant thought stream, we sit there tuned in and immersed in a toxic running commentary, without ever changing the station.
When you believe all the thoughts you have are the truth, your possibilities and beliefs about yourself are limited. We stay trapped in pre-existing beliefs that could be obstructing our fullest potential.
As Gandhi once said, "Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."
So how do you know which thoughts are valuable and which thoughts are to be disregarded?
It's usually the negative thoughts that can have a particular power to affect our destiny. The next time you're having a thought which in some way is self critical, judgmental, worried or stressed, take a mindful moment to pause. Ask yourself if this thought is supporting you to be the person you want to be, and live in the way you want to live. Recognize which emotion might be driving that type of thinking. Is it fear, overwhelm, stress, hurt, anxiety, shame or anger?
By getting to the root of the emotion behind the thought you can then make wiser decisions about how to respond to what is triggering that emotion, rather than staying captive to unproductive thought loops.
Here are four steps to finding greater emotional freedom through mindfulness meditation:
1. Notice when you are having a thought that is negative or creating emotional discomfort.
2. Ask yourself: "Is this thought moving me toward or away from what I value and how I want to be living?"
3. If the thought is moving you away from who you want to be and how you want to live in the world, then let that thought go. Realize that this thought is just a thought, and not an authority.
4. Take a moment to bring compassion to yourself as you recognize and uncover the underlying emotion that is fueling these negative, unhelpful thought streams.
5. Remind yourself that the nature of the mind is to think. It is constantly producing thoughts, some of which are creative and inspired and others which are holding you captive and bringing you down.
Realize that you don't have to believe every single thought that comes into your mind. Mindfulness — the capacity to be aware of what is happening from moment-to-moment — helps you to carefully choose which thoughts you are allowing to influence your life.