How do we stop thinking and live in the moment? We don’t have to look very far to realize that many people are trying to give us answers. These questions and answers provide a great starting place to explain what Sahaja Yoga meditation is and what makes a daily Sahaja Yoga practice special. In the next few articles we will look at this meditation in detail, but we’ll begin with a quick overview of four of the internet’s common answers to stop thinking.
Let’s take a look at the question first. How do you learn to stop thinking? Isn’t that just one more thing to think about? Can we even think about how not to think? Can we plan to avoid over-planning? How far can we get by worrying about how to stop worrying? Difficult questions for sure, and many people are looking for answers.
One thing is clear, to stop thinking we will need some different approaches to get around our mind’s usual habits. The current popularity of mindfulness and meditation might be part of something healthy, perhaps even something necessary for humankind’s progress, but there is just so much different information! To make things simpler and to save time, we surveyed the internet for the most common answers, tips and “life hacks” on the subject.
Watch Your Breathing
Let’s return to the puzzle of how to stop our thoughts. How do we stop our thinking? if we could do it voluntarily, we wouldn’t need to look for outside help. Though sitting silently gives us somewhere to start, it returns us to the problem of watching ourselves. Since watching ourselves is doing something with our mind, we’re still not silent.
This is where watching our breathing is meant to come in. The idea is to pay attention to our lungs filling and emptying, and sometimes it’s also recommended to consciously slow our breathing. In theory this should get us out of our heads and into our bodies long enough to interrupt the stream of thoughts, but stress and anxiety have a way of following our attention wherever it goes. It’s even possible to become anxious and worried about something as simple as breathing. Stress, anxiety, depression, these things can behave like gravity, acting on whatever comes into their field. “Am I doing this right?”, “Am I getting enough oxygen?”, “How long do I hold each breath?” Unfortunately breathing and relaxation can’t always take us far enough to escape the trap of our mind. Can we enter a time and a place where we can leave the outside world at the door? The idea is to see how it feels to just sit, just breath, just BE, even if we can only manage it for a few moments. If we manage to get a break in our thoughts, where do we go from there? meditation is not an end in itself, it’s the “living” part of “live in the moment” that’s still missing here.
Another common solution to stress, worry and over thinking is something called “mindfulness”. Some writers and educators present it in simple terms, others define as something more mysterious or mystical. Mindfulness, the art of doing what you are doing with your whole attention rather than just going through the motions, can be found in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions. Most contemporary descriptions of mindfulness avoid the spiritual implications, but mindfulness expresses an approach found in many traditional scriptures. Variations on this theme can be found around the world, some more practical and down to earth:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Others speak of mindfulness as an expression of devotion:
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
The first quotation is part of the “lilies of the field” parable told by Jesus in the Matthew 6:34, the second is from Proverbs 4:23 in the Hebrew scriptures. The goal is to guard ourselves, to keep our attention on what is right in front of us as the path to fulfillment. Buddha gave us similar advice:
“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”
It’s reassuring to know that mindfulness and the problems and solutions it addresses have been with us for thousands of years, but the passage of time seems to have taken us further from this ideal rather than closer. Can the answer to excessive thinking be as simple as “doing what you are doing”? How do we even do that? Leaving the past behind and letting the future take care of itself sounds great, but it seems to be something that has to happen spontaneously, not a thing under our voluntary control. Perhaps there is way of dealing with stress that gets closer to it’s roots.
Deal with your Responsibilities – Then Let Go
There is an ocean of strategies for “letting go” but most people seem to forget that the things we have to let go need to be transformed into something else. In other words, we might be having trouble letting things go because we haven’t dealt with them yet.
The trick is that surrendering our thoughts and anxieties may require transcending them through taking responsibility. This is not a simple “life hack” or a “quick fix”, this is growth through transformation. Meditation has always been associated with Self realization. This is why spiritual progress is so often symbolized as a rebirth or an awakening. This is the path of meditation through introspection and personal ascent. In the second verse of Cetana Sutta, Buddha is quoted as follows:
‘It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.
“Freedom from remorse”, that’s another way of saying “finished with guilt and regret”. If we achieve personal growth through facing ourselves and taking responsibility for our shortcomings and mistakes, peace of mind comes naturally. In other words, we don’t have peace on the inside because we are not yet at peace with our behaviour in the world around us. Just as the awakening of a seed starts a process that expands upward naturally, meditation through personal growth is followed by growth in meditation, So how to set it in motion? what is blocking our way?
See our Ego
Most people would agree that any real solution to life’s challenges has to cost something. One way of evaluating meditation resources on the internet would be to look for solutions that aren’t easy. The “see your ego” path to quieting the mind is not as popular as some of the less drastic ways to go beyond our thoughts, but truly “living in the moment” isn’t possible when the ego is in the way. It’s the self satisfied part of our being that stands between us and reality. Ego is not value or respect for one’s self, its a smaller part that identifies with “I” “me” and “mine”.
Facing our ego is uncomfortable work, and our culture’s emphasis on self esteem and individual identity works against us. One of the reasons we look far away and long ago for insight is that our contemporary world is so good at handling our material needs like shelter, safety and warmth. We have so many ways to tend to the comforts of the outer self that we have lost touch with the world of the inner self. The ego is like a shell that hardens in modern times. It’s hard to be humble when we have conveniences and comfort that kings and queens couldn’t have even dreamed of a few centuries ago. More than any other obstacle to inner silence, the ego we build of our own importance can be seen as the main obstacle to living in the now. Emptying ourselves of everything but the reality that surrounds takes us to a place above and beyond the ego, it takes us into the state of meditation.
Sahaja Yoga Meditation
In our next articles, we will take a look at what Sahaja Yoga reveals about each of these four paths to meditation. The subtle body is our inner instrument of chakras and channels that meditation and yoga seek to access. The way we awaken the subtle energies to transcend the obstacles that trap us in our limited self are an unfamiliar and often bewildering subject. Our hope is that through looking at these familiar approaches to meditation, we can make sense of the these mysteries for a general audience. “Living in the now” is actually what our inner evolution through meditation is designed to prepare us for. Get ready to learn more about how to get our thoughts out of the way, and find the real world that’s waiting right in front of us. – William Downey