In my last post I promised to share practical steps that can help us control our thoughts and thus enable us gain that inner peace necessary for happiness. Here we go.
Let us begin by considering the nature of mind, the seat of thought. Generally, the mind seems to have a life of its own, leading us through the wilderness of thoughts, some of which are mere figments and yet devastating.
For instance, remember all those anticipated problems that never came to pass but for which you had suffered, worrying yourself sick. Recall those nights when though you were lying in a comfortable bed your thoughts of the future or past deprived you of a good night’s rest. Think about that rich man who is in constant fear of bankruptcy even though he has enough to last for more than a life time. All these leave dents on the individual’s psyche and overtime the effects accumulate into nagging problems. That is the uncontrolled mind in action.
But the good news is that this unruly or bullying nature can be tamed and the mind be made to focus more on positive thoughts than on negative ones, according to the science of thought. And the taming has nothing to do with suppressing emotions. Nor does it mean brainwashing one into allowing problems a free hand to determine his fate, rendering him incapable of facing life’s challenges. Rather, the techniques are aimed at empowering the mind with the resilience to bear burdens and the calmness to express emotions moderately, without dwelling on them. When thought control becomes a habit, the individual is able to face his problems with calm confidence rather than shying away from them or worrying or engaging in desperate actions that may lead to no good.
According to Ernest Holmes, the author of ‘Creative Mind and Success’, mind is everything. This is absolutely true because every word we utter, every action we take begins as a thought in the mind. So, since our actions determine our circumstances and the consequences of our actions have their origin in the mind, the need to take care of our minds, and hence our thoughts, cannot be overstressed.
Let’s discuss the techniques one by one.
Before we discuss meditation as one of the major exercises we can use to gain control of our thoughts, let’s get an idea of what it means.
Simply put, meditation is the act of emptying the mind by concentrating it on a given target. It is also a spiritual or religious exercise. When meditation is practised regularly for a long time the mind is effectively brought under control, making it easy for you to shun unwanted thoughts at will. In fact, the time will come when your mind will become so preoccupied with higher thoughts that petty, worrying thoughts would stand no chance of intruding. It may sound too lofty to be true but this mental state can be gained as surely as one can attain expertise in any endeavour after a long practice.
Yet, it seems only a few people know this. Even among those who know, only a few practise meditation, especially in this part of the world. And this is largely due to the misconception that it is a religious practice exclusive to Buddhism and Hinduism.
But the fact is that meditation is also synonymous with other religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In Islam it is called dhikr (remembrance of God) and it is performed in various forms. In Christianity and Judaism, it is known as contemplative prayer and kabbalistic practice, respectively, and it is likewise observed in diverse ways.
There is also the secular form of meditation which is practised without religious rituals, but as a practical means of calming the mind – the way physical exercise is used to develop the body. In other words, while religious meditation is basically a form of worship, a medium of communing with the Source (and has an added benefit of calming the mind), secular meditation is more of a mind therapy.
In either case the method is similar. You need a quiet and comfortable place to sit down. You need to be still, but relaxed enough to feel at ease. You don’t have to stress yourself trying to pose like the statue of Buddha. You can even lie down if it feels more comfortable for you and you are sure it would not lead to dozing off. Next, you require something to focus on in order to keep your mind from wandering. It could be an object to stare at, some sound to listen to, a phrase to repeat inwardly, or a combination of two or more of these, including closing of eyes.
For the religious type, reading the scripture or listening to it, or repeating a scriptural verse with rapt concentration is an effective way of blocking thoughts away from your mind. For the secular meditation, all of the above could be applied with some variations or modifications. For instance, in lieu of a spiritual mantra, one could use a simple phrase like ‘only good shall come my way’. One could also focus on his breath. This is called breathing meditation.
It should be noted that focusing on anything; object, sound or mental image does not mean worshipping it (unless you mean to). They are only meant to hold your attention and ward off intrusive thoughts. In this regard, while it is okay to choose the method that is consistent with your belief, concentrating on God or His attributes is generally considered more effective.
How long should one meditate at a sitting, how regular, and what length of time does it take for the benefits to start manifesting?
In the previous parts of this write-up, I discussed meditation as one of the means by which we can overcome the tyranny of our minds and attain enduring happiness.
Before discussing the science behind this wonderful transformation, let’s look at the challenges associated with practising meditation and how to overcome them. There are many who have discarded meditation soon after they started because, according to them, they could not find the time, the suitable place, and the patience to sit calmly for even ten minutes daily. But considering the benefits, I think it is worthwhile for those who are really interested to create the time, muster up the patience, and manage whatever place they can find. You can’t get a completely quiet place on earth, even in your bedroom, unless it is sound-proof. This is why some people choose to do it in the night, at dawn or late in the evening when it is relatively silent.
Another challenge is starting the meditation itself. If you are a beginner, you will realise that as soon as you settle down to start, your mind would begin to wander, attracting all sorts of thoughts as if inviting them in to help protest against your attempt to regain your mental kingdom over which it had been in firm control. The worst mistake you can make in this situation is to try and quell the rebellion with your will power. You don’t have that power yet! You will only worsen the problem and frustrate yourself out of the practice. Your best bet is to be persuasive; gently bringing back your mind to the object of focus each time it wanders away. Since the mind can think only one thought at a time, refocusing it on that one object reinforces your concentration.
With constant practice, your mind will begin to mellow, the intrusive thoughts will start to ebb, and meditating will gradually become less cumbersome. As you progress, you will be encouraged by the resulting effects to extend the practice time up to thirty minutes or more daily.
Your meditation getting easier is a sign that your mind is transforming. You will notice that the relaxed feeling you experience at the time of meditating is carried over to other times. And just as you are able to control your mind in meditation, you can virtually do so at any time. There would be a kind of a breathing space between you and thoughts, hence you have the power to either admit or dismiss any thought right at the gate of your mind.
This may sound gibberish but it is neither magic nor something achievable only by a special set of people. Forget those myths. We are all humans and are basically of the same spiritual and psychological make-up. The secret is that as you meditate you are, in addition to strengthening your connection with God, training your mind to submit to your control. Overtime, with your subconscious mind working at the background fixing things according to your dictates and efforts, your conscious mind becomes used to your orders and your preferable thoughts and filters the undesirable ones away even before you become aware of them.
Another reason behind the transformation is that the regular deliberate calming of the mind reduces its turbulence and susceptibility to wandering. It becomes as placid as a pond without ripples, reflecting only the beauty of its surroundings. You begin to see things in their true colours or right perspectives rather than in the distorted images that used to fill you with worries.
The ultimate benefit of this born-again mind is that, as you can now choose your thoughts, you would normally engage with positive ones and thus become more optimistic and happier. Just as pessimistic thoughts used to torment you, rousing your negative emotions and consequently pushing you into negative actions, your new optimistic view of the world will naturally lead to positive decisions and actions. And this trend is bound to attract success because, according to Henry Thomas Hamblin, author of The Power of Thought, he who has overcome in his thoughts will overcome in actual experience.
To be continued