Clearing your Mind through Meditation

The ultimate purpose of Buddhist practice is to reveal one’s enlightened nature or Buddha nature. All living beings have an enlightened nature, but what is this enlightened nature?  To achieve enlightenment is to free oneself from the identification with the mind and body. Most of us probably would view the idea of attaining enlightenment as being impractical or impossible. However, most of us would welcome a way to calm down our minds, slow down our racing thoughts, and eliminate our negative self-talk. In truth, the difference between calming down our minds and achieving enlightenment is one of degree. In this article, we will explore what it really means to “calm down” your mind and how that relates to higher states of awareness.

Calming down the mind does not mean getting rid of thoughts, which is impossible. Nor does it mean controlling your thoughts or thinking positive, which only leads to further mental distress. The essence of calming down your minds involves losing interest in your thoughts.

Creating Distance

Most people who try to learn how to meditate give up because they become frustrated by distracting thoughts. They want to learn to meditate because they want to clear their minds. Instead, they often experience increased thought activity. They find themselves in a battle with their thoughts. What most of us do not realize is that our thoughts have no inherent power of their own. The power that energizes thoughts is derived from the attention that we give them.  The basic principle of meditation is learning to create distance between you and your thoughts. You can experience this for yourself by doing the following exercise:

  1. Find a place where you feel comfortable and will not be interrupted.
  2. While breathing normally, close your eyes and allow yourself to relax. You can do this by focusing on the sensations that you experience as you place your attention on your breathing.
  3. While doing this exercise, do not judge anything that you experience or hold any expectations. Merely allow anything that you experience to take place.
  4. When thoughts appear, acknowledge their existence. Do not try to resist them or control them. Instead, return your attention back to the sensations of your breathing.
  5. Continue to redirect your attention back to your breathing anytime thoughts appear, regardless of how many times this occurs.
  6. Doing this exercise will do two things. First, you will increase your awareness of when thoughts arise. Secondly, you will be able to experience the changes that occur in your mental activity when you withhold your attention from your thoughts.

Meditations, such as the one that you just did, work because the mind can focus only on one thing at a time. You cannot give your attention to a thought when you are focusing on your breathing. Since thoughts derive all their power from the attention that we give them, this meditative practice is withholding the attention that energizes them.

Magnetized Thoughts

While it is important to learn how meditation works to clear the mind, it is also useful to know why we experience busy minds. First of all, you do not create your thoughts; instead, you attract them. There is only one consciousness, which is sometimes referred to as the universal consciousness. Your mind is a localized expression of the collective consciousness. Just as a cell phone picks up a signal from a cell phone tower, your personal consciousness attracts thoughts from the collective consciousness. Thoughts are like magnets that attract other thoughts that are of a like kind.  Here is an example:

The thought “my checking account is low” arises within you. Your reaction to this thought will determine the quality of thought it will attract. If you feel confident because you have just got paid, the next thought that you attract maybe “I need to deposit my check.” In turn, this thought may attract a thought like “Everything will be okay.”

An alternate possibility is that you have the thought “my checking account is low,” which creates fear in you. Your fear results in the original thought attracting other thoughts of similar quality like:

  • “What am I doing to do? I have no money.”
  • “How will I pay my rent?”
  • “What if I am unable to recover financially?”
  • “What do I tell my wife?”

In turn, any of these thoughts will attract other thoughts of like kind. This person will be consumed with worry because their minds have become a party where their fearful thoughts are inviting all of their friends over. Now imagine this person suddenly receives a large tax refund in the mail. The focus of this person’s attention is no longer on his fearful thoughts but the check instead. As the person has redirected his focus, the fearful thoughts are no longer energized and cease to attract thoughts of similar quality.

The Original Thought

It was stated earlier that we attract thoughts of like kind. You may be asking yourself if that is true, where did the first thought come from? The first thought is what we refer to as “I.” The sense of “I,” is our first thought.  There is a wide-spread belief that consciousness is found within the brain of the person or living entity. Under this premise, every person is walking around with a self-contained consciousness that is located somewhere in their brain.  As stated earlier, there is one consciousness. Everything in existence not only arises from consciousness but is permeated by it. A metaphor for this would be the sun. When you look out of your window during the daytime, everything is lit up. It is not that the trees, grass, cars, and other houses have their own self-contained light. Instead, all of these things are bathed in the light of the sun.

The thought “I” arises when localized consciousness identifies with the mind and body. When we say “I,” we are referring to the thoughts, emotions, or feelings that we experience (the mind) as well as perceptions and sensations (the body). Collectively, all of these things create the experience of “I.”

The Illusion of Separation

With the sense of “I,” comes the sense of separation. The sense of “I” causes us to differentiate between what we consider to be aspects of ourselves and the rest of the world. This sense of differentiation also leads to a sense of fear. All thoughts can be divided into two types: Loving or fearful. Loving thoughts are those thoughts that we experience when we are not focused on our sense of separation.

Fear thoughts are the result of us focusing on our sense of separation. This dynamic is most evident in intimate relationships. We may meet someone whom we are attracted to as they are attracted to us. A relationship develops, and we fall deeply in love with them. When viewed from the perspective of higher levels of awareness, the reasons for us falling in love has less to do with the other person and more with how we are directing our focus.

By focusing on the other person, we lose our sense of separation. By doing this, we are allowing space for the love that is naturally inherent within us to come forth. Later on in the relationship, the other person may behave in ways which are not consistent with our expectations. Our sense of insecurity or fear is the result of placing the focus of our attention back on ourselves, which causes the feelings of separation to eclipse the feelings of love. Either way, how we feel is the product of feelings that are self-generated by us; the other person is just the stimulus that activates these feelings.

The Deeper Truth about Meditation

At the beginning of this article, it was stated that the difference between calming down our minds and achieving enlightenment is one of degree. It was also stated that to clear the mind means not to give your thoughts more attention than is necessary as thoughts become energized by the attention we give them. It can be said the purpose of meditation is to become aware though in a detached manner. Instead of getting caught up in thoughts, the one who mediates correctly becomes a witness to thought activity.  However, there is one thought though that remains active despite the efforts of most mediators, which is the “I” thought.

The thought “I” is the most primal thought there is; it is the thought that we mistaken to be who we are. If you say, “I need to meditate,” or “I need to clear my mind,” then who is thinking this?

No matter how you answer this question, your answer is a thought as well. If the “I” thought is who you are then who were you before your “I” thought entered your awareness? Enlightenment is no longer getting caught up in the “I” thought, just as you avoided getting caught up in thoughts when you focused on your breath. The essence of who you are is the one that witnesses all thoughts without getting caught up with them, including the “I thought.”

Discovering the Elusive Witness

The following is an exercise you can do explore the nature of thought and your place in it:

  1. Find a place where you feel comfortable and will not be interrupted.
  2. While breathing normally, close your eyes and allow yourself to relax. You can do this by focusing on the sensations that you experience as you place your attention on your breathing.
  3. While doing this exercise, do not judge anything that you experience or hold any expectations. Simply allow anything that you experience to take place.
  4. Observe any thoughts, perceptions, or sensations that enter your awareness. Study them as though they were a rare bird, and you want to learn about its habits. Some things that you may want to reflect on are:
    • Do the thoughts, perceptions, or sensations that I experience remain fixed or do they change? Do they change in their intensity? Do they appear and then fade away, or are they always there?
    • If I can observe these mental phenomena undergo changes, am I, the one who is observing, changing? If thoughts come and go, does the awareness that is observing them come and go?
    • As I reflect on the answers to these questions, there is an awareness that reflection is occurring. If I find an answer to these questions, there is an awareness of the answers as well. Who or what is aware of all of these things?

There is an awareness of the existence of a busy mind, the desire to clear one’s mind, and of meditating. There is an awareness that meditating is peaceful or difficult. There is an awareness of the thoughts that you have about this article. When you can be aware of all these things, without identifying or personalizing them, you will have more than clear your mind. You will have entered the realm of consciousness where thought has been transcended!

Do We Need Thoughts?

The topic of this article was can meditation to used to clear the mind. This article responded to this question by exploring the nature of thought, how meditation affects thought activity, and how it is possible to transcend thoughts, including the thought that we are mistaken to be ourselves. Having covered these points, there is an obvious question that needs to be addressed: Do we need thoughts? This question is difficult to answer as it depends on what level of consciousness we are experiencing. During deep sleep, we experience a state of consciousness that is free of thought, which is why we have no memory of our experience in deep sleep. Deep sleep is the state of being where we experience pure consciousness, a consciousness that is free of mental activity.

In the waking state, we find ourselves experiencing the events and situations that we call “life.” The thought is both a necessary and useful tool that allows us to navigate our daily life and to solve problems. For practical situations such as these, we need though. When it comes to trying to understand who we are, other people, the nature of life, or the nature of the universe, than the less thought, the better.

If you can become a witness to your thoughts and other mental phenomena, and if you can reach the understanding that the essence of who you are is beyond thought, then the answers to all of your questions will become self-evident, which is the ultimate clear mind.

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