Mindfulness practice can teach us about the nature of thinking, and perhaps even more importantly, it can teach us that we are not our thoughts. This might seem like an obvious or even silly point to make, but consider for a moment the negative thoughts you have about yourself—about your weight, your intelligence, or your career success. If you’re like most of us, you probably have a set of negative thoughts about yourself that you’ve been thinking for years and which you find yourself returning to regularly. In her book Says Who?, mindfulness teacher Ora Nadrich explains how our thoughts can hold us captive and how using mindfulness can help reframe our attitude toward negative and fear-based thoughts, mindfully replacing them with productive, supportive thoughts.
We often allow—and rarely question the validity of—certain negative thoughts (for example, “I need to lose ten pounds,” “I’m not talented enough to make VP,” or “My spouse is too good for me”). If you’ve been thinking negative thoughts for long enough, you have probably come to believe in and identify with them. You think you are overweight or not good enough instead of recognizing that these are simply thoughts that you have about yourself that may not even be objectively accurate.
You are not your thoughts; you are the thinker of the thoughts. We could never act on all of our thoughts, and there are many thoughts we shouldn’t act on or believe in if we want to live a healthy, well-balanced life. Mindfulness meditation practice will help you discern which thoughts support your goals and well-being and which thoughts are destructive or unhealthy and should be discarded.
In a mindfulness meditation, you practice checking in with all of the sensations and thoughts you are experiencing, as you experience them. Gradually, you will practice opening your awareness to the simultaneous observation of the various aspects of the moment—without any expectation, without any judgment, allowing them to fluidly change. The key to getting the most out of an Open Awareness Meditation is to allow everything to be as it already is. It is in our nature to want to change or improve things, especially if there is discomfort on any level. To the extent possible, you should try not to do that during your meditation practice and simply allow things to be as they are.
For example, you decide to meditate outdoors because it’s a peaceful, quiet day with comfortable weather. As your meditation begins, you hear a car drive by, your neighbor’s dog barking, and the gentle breeze of the wind. The mental perspective to hold here is that you accept and allow the dog to bark and the car to drive by, without entertaining the desire for things to be any different than they are. The thought may arise “Will that dog be quiet?” but your practice will be to let yourself have that thought without following it or dwelling on it. The sound of the car and the barking of the dog need not interrupt the meditation; rather, they can become a part of it. Of course, you should always try to meditate in a place where you will be safe and as undisturbed as possible, but keep in mind that in any meditation practice, a crucial component is to allow—even welcome—changes to the outside environment without interrupting the meditation. Simply observe, experience, and allow things to be as they are.
Open Awareness Meditation will make you more aware of the thoughts passing through your mind. Studies show that the average individual thinks anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 thoughts every single day. By holding an open-focus awareness, you create a larger mental “container” for your thoughts to pass through. Gradually, with regular practice, mindfulness will give you the opportunity to more clearly see and experience the many layers of your thinking process.
Excerpt from Practical Meditation For Beginners
BENJAMIN W. DECKER is a meditation teacher and social activist in Los Angeles. He is the Director of Education at The Institute For Transformational Thinking and author of Meditation For Beginners and a founding teacher at Unplug Meditation, The DEN Meditation, and Wanderlust Hollywood. He is also the former Director of Partnerships at the humanitarian aid organization Generosity.org and former Director of Partnerships at the anti-human trafficking organization Unlikely Heroes.