There’s this idea that meditation is having zero thoughts in your mind. Just sit there, peacefully, and you’ll magically experience a turnaround in your life for the better, you don’t have to do anything… right?
I wish it was as easy as that. If it was this easy, and if what comes after long sessions of committed meditation would be present the moment you first meditated, I think we’d have a lot more people meditate rather than a vast majority quit.
Meditation can be hard for some, and it has nothing to do because of the practice, but with commitment and dedication. Then again, if everything came easy, we wouldn’t appreciate it as much as if we have to work on something to get it.
So in that sense, it can be a major advantage that the practice of meditation takes focused prolonged practice to reap the rewards.
Meditation and mindfulness are used interchangeably, and for good reason, as a meditation practice, in reality, is having your consciousness at the moment and allowing your thoughts to flow without directly trying to interact with these thoughts to change them. If thoughts don’t work for you, you can bring your attention to sensations, alternatively, so long as they keep you present.
You simply won’t experience pleasant thoughts all the time in meditation, especially if the default is to let thoughts be.
There’s a part of you you’re not gonna be proud of, that inhabits the subconscious and presents itself from the mind as a way to steer you away from a deep, relaxing meditation because of its dislike towards meditation.
But what can you do, when, regardless of trying to meditate and being committed to the practice, your mind is trying to fight it by drifting away to something else.
In this article, I’ll present some alternatives as to what you can keep your focus on, which may work better for you than forcing yourself to let those thoughts flow.
What Do You Do When Your Mind Drifts Away?
As often advised, I recommend you let it get away, even if it’s just for a moment. Don’t try to fight in and bring back your attention immediately, as your mind is gonna be in your way and the thing you’re trying so hard to keep from happening will be happening. In this case, thoughts.
What you can do instead is treat your mind without deeming what it just did good or bad, but instead, have the thinking of “okay, I noticed my mind drifted away, I’m gently gonna bring my attention back to what I was thinking.”
The key here is to do it gently while taking a step back. Of course, this won’t be the easiest thing to do, but over time, you learn to bring back your awareness and your mind ends up with fewer urges to drift into something else because you’ve taught yourself to meditate.
In the beginning, the idea of meditation is non-existent for the mind, you’d have to plant that seed in your mind and get used to something you’ve never done before.
Keeping It Blank
While it’s impossible to think of nothing, I like to imagine a white room and keep my focus there.
This is especially helpful if you’re able to sustain your focus on one thing at a time, although you may have a hard time keeping your focus. But thinking of complete whiteness can be hard, but it’s easier than not having any thoughts at all. You can think of a white paper, alternatively.
Your mind already knows what a white paper looks like. Whereas nothingness is non-existent, there’s always something.
Now, if thinking of a white paper in a white room does nothing for you, and your mind keeps drifting away, you may want to try adding a black dot in the middle of the room or in the middle of the paper.
Sometimes, the mind needs direction, and thinking of a white paper invites thousands of possibilities for anything to be on that white paper.
If you consider yourself a visual person, you can benefit from visualizing a place you feel comfortable with or want to be in.
Could be a beach, a forest, or any place that gives you a deep feeling of peace. Feel like you are there, breathing the fresh air.
That’s not to say that the mind won’t try to intervene once in a while and bring your awareness to something else but the present, but for as long as you can, visualize that place that gives you a deep feeling of peace.
Many are often instructed this way through guided meditation, which gives them a sense of direction and makes it less likely for the mind to wander elsewhere, which is one of the reasons why guided meditations are so popular. They give you a concrete focal point.
Now, you can use this by yourself, and if you don’t feel comfortable being guided by meditation because of not knowing what to think, you can be your own guided meditation, but rely on yourself. That’s right, you can record your own voice, and add some background music.
There’s a lot of value to being your own meditation teacher. To start with, you know yourself better than anyone else and you can tailor the experience into something more comfortable for you. It’s worth noting that not everyone will be comfortable with this and that’s okay.
But If you’re able to visualize a place that resembles peace, rather than thinking about something abstract like a paper or white room, you may get more clarity through the meditation and there’s less room for your mind to wander off outside what you’ve specified.
Of course, this mostly applies if you’re a visual person, or find it easier to stay focused with a place you already know. Which is an important point to mention. If you’ve already aware of this place and you’ve been there physically, it can be less work for your mind.
For some, visualization doesn’t work as well as with others. In fact, it’s a handful of people that applies to, and staring at thoughts may not be for them either. In those cases, focusing on sensations around you, like your own breathing or heartbeat could be a viable alternative to keep your mind in the present moment.
Sensations work well because they’re one of the easiest focal points for the mind. You can even make it a habit to focus on your sensations more often, which can translate into an easier time when meditating. Are you feeling happy, angry, or sad?
Take a step back and take note of that. We tend to be clouded by those emotions, but there’s another side to it: they can be to your benefit when meditating if your mind wanders off when you try not to dwell on thoughts.
There’s nothing confrontational about let’s say, your breathing, as in there maybe when you’re flooded with thoughts everywhere.
Now, this has less to do with thinking and more to do with sensations, but our thinking is what creates sensations, therefore, I put it in the category of things you can think about, or should I say, be aware of while meditating. Meditation doesn’t have to be this one-dimensional way perspective where a certain way is the right way.
Scents You’re Familiar With
Believe it or not, one of the things that get best recorded on the mind is our sense of smell. If you remember a particular smell, you can keep your mind on that smell and imagine that you’re smelling that scent in the present moment.
I often talk about the mind antagonizing our efforts to meditate, and many would agree that the mind can often present an obstacle. But the mind can also be used to your benefit when you’re meditating.
There are more things you can think about other than what I’ve mentioned, but based on an observation from my personal experience meditation, imagining smells can be quite a potent but underrated way to meditate.
If you have a hard time imagining a smell, despite being one of the things the mind keeps the most memory of, you can actually smell something as you meditate. It could be something as simple as a leaf.
If you’re sniffing something, while not impossible, there’s a big chance your mind will stay present. It does help to supplement the smell by devoting your attention to what you’re smelling with your eyes closed.