Why should I let go of my thoughts?
I teach a meditation class here in Bellingham called "Sit With It". That 45 minute class every Friday has actually become my favorite thing to do in my psychotherapy life right now. Regardless of what the title of the class may imply, Meditation is NOT a means by which we suffer endlessly in our difficult emotions and feelings! The implication here is that we don't. We simply don't sit with our feelings very often. They are prickly, sticky and uncomfortable things that sometimes take us over, sweep us away or make us act in ways we are up at night later reviewing with a cringe. Learning how to meditate takes the cringe factor away. Well, maybe not at first, but eventually and not too far down the road after meditating regularly, when we are overtaken we can see it.
And that, my friends, is the point.
We don't need to radically change our responses to our least favorite aspects of ourselves or others- we just need to see what our habitual reactions actually are. This is why meditation is no big deal and also the answer to pretty much everything. The power in seeing what is happening releases us from its grasp. If just for a millisecond- and that is enough for something new to happen. If you don't believe me- just try it out for yourself!
The really amazing aspect of this practice is that it can happen quickly. If you start meditating, and use the technique just 10 minutes a day, it really can change the way you respond to your life. Here's an article that refers to not only the Harvard study that says this very thing, but also other studies regarding the positive affects of meditation on the brain. (I recognize that I am sounding like a meditation cheerleader here. Well, maybe I am, but I'd like to think I am more of an instigator.)
For your Meditation experiment:
First, tell someone you are going to try meditation every day for 7 days. Ask them to ask you about it daily. This is a nice way to have an interesting conversation with someone in your life as well as remind you to meditate.
Then, grab a cushion that raises you up enough so that your knees are below your hips when you sit. You can sit cross legged or not. A yoga bolster or a stack of blankets works really well.
Designate a space for your ten minute daily practice. I have a meditation cushion set in my living room in a corner I have devoted just to that practice. It reduces many barriers to actually just plopping down and practicing for a mere ten minutes.
Next, decide on a time each day that you will meditate. I want to emphasize here that creating a regular expectation will support this endeavor greatly.
Finally, use the basic technique of following your breath with your awareness, labelling your thoughts thinking, then returning to the breath over and over for ten whole minutes. OH- be sure to place your phone on silent in the other room where your wandering mind cannot access any social media or news or email or cat photos.
Voila! You are a meditator. Do you feel any different?
Of course you don't! (Not yet.) Following our breath and labelling our thoughts thinking may not sound very profound, but after a while, a very subversive idea begins to dawn on us. Maybe what we are feeling/thinking/planning/brainstorming/fantasizing is NOT ACTUALLY REALLY HAPPENING. (I must now remind you of a 90's bumper sticker that I am sure you have seen: "Don't Believe Your Thoughts." Now you are in on the inside joke.)
This is why if you have ever approached meditation with great trepidation, thinking "I am going to be terrible at this because I can't stop thinking", you are going to be great at meditation. Our thoughts will always be there, spinning and dancing, but as we strengthen our awareness and observation of them by this simple practice, we begin to really get that what we are thinking or feeling about our life is different than simply being in our life. This is what Pema Chodron calls "Natural Awareness". As we develop the strength to notice our stuck emotions or thinking patterns, we can actually SIT within the uncomfortable moment without reacting in a way that hurts others or ourselves. A powerful example of this would be sitting with someone's anger at you without reacting. Can you imagine what it will feel like when you are able to be on the receiving end of someone's upset, disappointment or anger with you and for a moment be able to sit in it, the white hot discomfort of it without defending? Without blaming? Without running away? Being able to do this will automatically bring a new level of clarity in what might have been an impossible moment. What would happen if we could simply say, "I am sorry." Instead of, "Well, you did it to me!" or "I didn't mean to!" or even "Shut up!". The moment of space may not last long, but when you actually experience it, I predict it will make you crave more moments like it.
Meditation and the practice of letting go of our thoughts enables these moments to appear in our lives with more regularity. Then we begin to see that our patterns of response are actually malleable, and who we thought we were shifts to something softer and more awake to our world.
I would love to hear what happens for you and help guide you if you have questions arise. You can write here in the comments or on our Instagram (_kingtherapy), Twitter(_kingtherapy) or Facebook (kingtherapyassociates) pages using the hashtag #commit2sit. I look forward to hearing how it works for you! (If you are a client, be sure you have signed our Social Media Policy first on the client portal.)
PS- I want to add a quick thought here that if you struggle with a lot of self- hatred, trauma or PTSD, you may want to consult your therapist before you start a meditation practice. Sometimes, when you begin to meditate, your feelings and memories may be intensified as you tune into them. It will definitely help you to have the professional support you need if this happens, and I want this to be as easy as possible for you.
Written by Karen King, MS, LMHC
Karen is a practicing counselor in the Pacific Northwest
Read more about Karen at https://kinghealthassoc.com/karen-king-ms-lmhc