Your Thoughts Are Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky: Practicing MeditationMar 01, 2023
Meditation has many physical and emotional benefits that Western science has outlined through empirical study.
For example, the Mayo Clinic has indicated that emotional benefits include things like increasing self-awareness and managing stress, while physical benefits include things like pain management, sleep problems, and lowering blood pressure. In my personal experience, I have noticed that meditative practices help me minimize (but not eliminate) my anxiety, notice my thought patterns and open to the possibility of letting go of unhelpful tendencies, and help me communicate more clearly and lovingly with the people in my life. Have you experienced meditation?
I first encountered meditation–although we didn't call it that–as a musician, in a past life. I remember the moment before walking on stage when my heart felt like it would pound right out of my chest and butterflies in my stomach and taking long, slow, deep breaths in and out through my nose. I remember practicing visualizing successful, confident performances: How I would feel, how I would sound, the lights on the stage, and the sea of people in the audience. But I also remember doubt: How can I really keep my mind from running away into a reverie of catastrophe where I crash and burn on the difficult passage? How can I really slow down my heart and settle my stomach simply by breathing deeply?
I had never practiced meditation formally, and as far as I could tell, in order to meditate, one had to empty the mind of all thoughts. Which is obviously impossible! So I didn't bother to try.
This is an incredibly common misconception: That in order to meditate you have to empty your mind of all thoughts! It isn't about emptying the mind, it is about detachment from the mind even when the mind is full. It is about witnessing the mind without engaging. Maybe someday your mind will become calm, quiet, and empty, but for most of us this will rarely (never?) happen! And that's OK.
Instead of emptying the mind, I began to practice watching my thoughts.
I imagined that my thoughts were simply clouds in the sky, and I would watch as the clouds (thoughts) passed overhead (moved through my mind), simply noticing their existence and allowing them to come and to go. If I began to engage, fixate, or ruminate on a thought, I practiced just noticing this without judgement, knowing that my thoughts (and my thoughts about my thoughts) were neither good or bad, they just were.
Do you want to try meditating? Here are a few simple activities that you can practice.
Watch the breath:
Come to a comfortable position. This can be seated or standing. Just be sure that the spine is long so that the lungs are not compressed. Blink the eyes closed if that is comfortable for you. If not, maintain a soft, unfocused gaze to a single point in your environment.
Begin to notice your breathing. Is your breath quick or is it slow? Is in shallow or is it deep? Is it in and out through the nose, the mouth, or some combination?
Remember that the way that you are breathing is not good or bad, it simply is.
Watch the thoughts:
If you aren't here already–Come to a comfortable position. This can be seated or standing. Just be sure that the spine is long so that the lungs are not compressed. Blink the eyes closed if that is comfortable for you. If not, maintain a soft, unfocused gaze to a single point in your environment.
Imagine that you are lying in a warm grassy meadow on a beautiful spring day. The sky is bright blue and the sun is warm, but not hot. Your muscles are relaxed and you feel a sense of calm because there is nowhere you need to be right now. As you inhale fill up your lungs and let the belly rise, as you exhale imagine that you are relaxing more completely into the grass. Inhale let the lungs fill, exhale relax the entire body and sink a little deeper between the blades of grass.
Bring your attention to the sky. There are white fluffy clouds blowing across the sky. The wind is soft and steady, and the clouds do not linger. These clouds are your thoughts. As a thought comes into your field of vision, greet it from a distance with neutrality. It is nothing that you have to attend to now in this moment. Allow the thought to pass through your mind just as the clouds pass through the sky.
If you linger on your thoughts, or ruminate on them, or judge your thoughts as good or bad, observe yourself doing this. Accept that we all do this, and it is neither good or bad, it is simply a part of being human. You are not your thoughts, you are not your judgements.
Repeat this practice many times.
Attend a vinyasa yoga class!
I know a great place where you can practice online! (Wink wink). "Vinyasa" is "movement with breath." Bringing your attention to the breath, or watching the breath, can help ground you in the present moment. It gives your mind something to do, and while it is unlikely that you will empty the mind, it certainly helps reduce churning thoughts.