When I first started meditating and noticing the contents of my mind, I almost went crazy. Literally.
I knew the practice was healing me from the inside out, and I trusted all the stories of changed lives I’d heard. But even my husband asked a very emotionally volatile me if trying this esoteric practice was a good idea.
Thank goodness I kept it up. A few years later, meditation has become the single most influential spiritual practice in my life. It's helped me heal a lifetime of repressed emotions, tune in to my heart, and finally find peace.
Here's what I wish I'd realized from the beginning, though: You don't need to stop thinking in order to meditate.
The truth is, meditation isn't about stopping your thoughts. It's about becoming aware of your thoughts. Trying to squash your thoughts is resistance, and resistance causes suffering, not healing. Resistance makes you fear yourself and emphasizes that dreadful feeling that you're flawed and doing something wrong.
You're not meditating wrong. You just haven't sat for long enough. It's my mission to help you learn how to accept every part of yourself, even the thoughts you'd rather not think. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way:
1. Becoming aware of your thoughts is progress.
Consider this: All day long, you're thinking—but you're not really acknowledging your thoughts. When you sit down to meditate, however, the frenzy of this nonstop chatter finally annoys you.
That's actually progress. Because before, you weren't aware enough of this chatter to feel annoyed by it. This awareness is the thing you're cultivating just by showing up every day to practice.
2. Meditation practice doesn't require thoughtlessness.
Technically, meditation is a boundary-less state of being in which your body, mind, and heart merge with the present moment. Everything else—focusing on the breath or chanting mantras, for instance—is a tool to glide you into that state of being. Using the tools is the practice.
Focusing on your breath helps peel your attention away from your thoughts. Your thoughts will continue to attract your attention; that's where you've been focusing your entire life. Your thoughts and attention are stuck together like one of those annoying pieces of protective plastic, but keep showing up and you'll weaken this attachment.
While seated, you will repeatedly notice that your attention has wandered back to your thoughts. Simply return your awareness to your chosen point of focus. Back and forth, back and forth—that's meditation practice.
Not glamorous, and it feels like nothing is happening. Summon a little blind faith and keep showing up. Your whole life will change.
3. Allow your thoughts to flow freely.
At the beginning of your meditation journey, it's easy to cling to thoughts and feelings. Your attention will focus on one or the other. Focus is constriction, and the idea of meditation is to create expansion.
During practice, experiment with expanding your awareness to include not only your thoughts and feelings but also your breath or heart center. As you expand your awareness to include everything, you'll release your grip on any one thing and begin to relax into the stillness.
As you relax, suddenly, you feel peace.
If you'd like to learn a guided meditation technique for emotional healing—it changed my life!—click here for an audio download.