In a world of technology and never-ending stimulation, we are constantly bombarded with information to process. From news to entertainment, games to social media, family to social lives, work to hobbies, we never have a moment to even consider the idea of turning our minds off. It is no wonder we have a difficult time finding peace of mind, let alone deal with stress and anxiety.
But this is nothing new. Just having our 5 senses is enough to keep us busy processing input in even the most mundane conditions. And then processing all that input gets our mind really amped up.
So what's the answer?
Shut it down. But...
Easier said than done.
Thousands of years ago, humans had the same problems. Yes even without iPhones. So the wise men of the day started figuring out some cool ways to fix the problem. And in the beginning, these were secret teachings passed only on from teacher to worthy student.
Secret Number One
Well it is quite obvious when you think about it. Remove the stimulus.
In yoga it is called pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. When we sit quietly and focus on just our breath we begin the practice. So quite literally if we stop the input, we can slow down the processing.
The tricky part is habituation. This is the endemic part of our culture that is hard to escape. We are constantly attracted to more stimulation and breaking that habit is difficult. All the more reason to come to your mat, your cushion, your recliner or where ever you see fit to quiet the busy mind.
Begin this practice with the acceptance that it may be a challenge. The mind is a powerful thing and controlling it may seem impossible. Relax, it will take time. Let every new thought that comes up be accepted and then let go. If you are the kind of person that is afraid of letting go, make a list on paper and then tell yourself that you will come back to it after you have done your meditation.
Start your practice with removing stimulation from your environment. Use an eye pillow and lay down or sit in a darkened room. Put earplugs in or play soothing music in the background to drown out other stimulation. Be in place that is not too warm or cold.
Practice, practice, practice. Soon you will be able to disconnect from stimulation around you and let it just pass through and by you without reaction.
Secret Number Two
The second secret is more challenging than the first but equally important on the road to meditation and quieting the monkey mind.
The yoga sages call it dharana or concentration. Once we have removed stimulation we can start to focus our mind on a singular thing. Ideally it would be internal such as the breath. But to begin with something tangible can be very effective. It could be a flower, a rock, a picture, or a steady gaze to nothingness.
Concentration may at first be analytical in nature or even emotional. Finding connections with the object or allowing the object to elicit feelings is a great place to start. As the practice evolves you dissolve the interaction with the object until it is only a tool to withdraw from all interaction and leave the mind clear of all activity.
Pratyahara and dharana are two challenging limbs of yoga but very important stepping stones to unlocking the secrets to quieting our minds and finding our state of bliss!