How To Stop Cheating On Your Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness meditation is like flossing. You know its good for you. You know you are supposed to do it. You probably can’t keep it up for more than a few weeks. And when you do meditate, your mind goes to your to-do list because it feels like a punishment. What’s the secret of those monks who do it for hours a day?
There is a difference between knowing something and believing in something. Belief is the knowledge is you choose to give power to.
I know how hard it is to choose mindfulness over my own cognitive, thinking mind. Believe me, I’ve cheated on my mindfulness practice too many times to count.
However, once I understood the value of being the master of my thoughts, rather than my thoughts being a master of me, I could not wait to meditate. Once I realized that I was so much more than my thoughts, I could not wait to achieve the state of mindfulness as much as I could.
Once I saw how the best ideas my thoughts can produce when I am not practicing mindfulness pales in comparison to the ideas my thoughts produce when I am practicing mindfulness, I could not wait to immerse myself completely to the present moment.
By placing myself in the present moment, I become above my thoughts.
What does this mean: to place myself above my thoughts? Who am I if I not just my thoughts?
Imagine a room without windows. Imagine you were borne in this room and spent your whole life there. You had no TV, no books, no contact with the outside world.
Could you know that you are in a room? Could you know that your room may be one of many in a house, in which there are hundreds of millions across the planet? Could you know that your room could have a different owner? Could you know that your room could be converted to a yoga studio or a AirBNB? Would you even know what any of those things are? To truly understand your room and what it can be, you have to get out of the room and observe it.
Your thought structure, the very reality your mind creates for you, can be compared to you in this room. You don’t know what is out there if you never leave. You don’t know who you are if you never leave. You don’t know what you are fully capable of becoming if you do not leave.
Meditation is leaving behind the tunnel vision that is created by thought structure and seeing the bigger picture. Only when you see this bigger picture can you know yourself, can you see certain solutions to your problems, can you heal from past traumas, and can you stop overthinking.
In regards to overthinking, we overthink in response to emotions rising from the subconscious. Sometimes, the rising emotions are a complex bundle wound up tight like the electrical cords behind the family TV. Your thoughts, in turn, reflect this bundle.
Can you unwind a bundle of electrical cords without working with the entirety of all the cords? What if you tried to unravel this cord using only the area of the cord that was tangled up? Is that even possible?
Your cognitive, thinking mind is powerful but it is not powerful enough, no matter how smart you are, to unravel the vast emotional complexity that is your subconscious, which is over 90% of your brain. It can’t even perceive the whole thing. If you try to solve overthinking with more thinking, you will work hard for nothing, and likely make things worse because thoughts feed into emotions which in turn feed into more thoughts.
However, what you can do is place yourself above your thoughts, you can be aware of everything that is going on. When you do this, the bundle will begin to unravel itself and you will naturally calm down. It is the quickest way to clear yourself of emotional ruts.
Enough metaphors! Let’s bring in some cold hard scientific proof!
In a recent study done on emotional regulation, brain science researchers found evidence that emotional introspection (the researchers scientifically objective term used for mindfulness) was superior to cognitive engagement.
Research subjects were brain-scanned with fMRI machines to measure the heat signatures of the amygdala, the part of the brain in charge of emotional intensity. During mindfulness exercises, the amygdala’s activity decreased. During cognitive engagement, the amygdala’s activity increased.
As my Kundalini yoga teacher says, “you can’t think your way out of a prison thought has created, you must feel your way out.”
Commit to meditating or a similar mindfulness practice for at least 10 minutes a day. Do so at a set time. For example, before or after you sleep or eat a meal.
Write down a list of 3-5 things you can do to make yourself trust your mindfulness practice over your thoughts for those ten minutes. Do you need to journal? Do you need to watch a TEDTalk? Do you need exercise? It can be as silly or serious as you need it to be as long as it gets the job done. Some visualizations that can help are pretending you are a Jedi reaching out to the force or having your inner child reach out to an angel.
Before you start your meditation practice, create trust between yourself and your mindfulness practice. Pick one or two of these things to do before you start the timer for meditation. Make sure you give yourself ample time to complete both preparation and practice.