If you’re like most people, you’re probably troubled by your thoughts, moods and emotions from time to time. You may even fear them; perhaps because they prevent you from getting to sleep, or from living the life you want.

Which is kind of strange, given that they’re so fleeting and insubstantial. How is it that something so ephemeral can hold such power over us?

And why do we let ourselves be bullied by ourselves? Why do we accept the criticism, condemnation and defeatism of these inner voices?

More importantly, is there a way to shut them up?

It seems that many people turning to meditation hope that there is.

They’re seeking the off-switch for the brain, or a magical means of banishing anxiety from existence.

Unfortunately, hopes of this kind usually backfire. In fact, attempts to shut out thoughts or emotions often strengthen the power those thoughts and emotions have over us.

Thankfully, there are alternative means for finding peace of mind.

For example, we can:

  1. Become more aware of our thoughts and feelings.
  2. Recognise their impersonal nature.
  3. Understand that thoughts are not facts, and need not be believed.

These insights — or inner attitudes — when habitually applied, gradually weaken the power thoughts and emotions have over us. And strangely, this kind of skepticism also allows us to begin to trust ourselves more deeply.

This happens because becoming more aware of your thoughts helps you to manage them better. A thought that you are not fully aware of has almost complete control over you, because you don’t know that it’s influencing you. Once you are aware of a thought, however, you can decide how best to respond to it.

This, I believe, is why meditation works. Not because you manage to quieten your mind, but because you become more aware of what you are thinking.

For meditation to be useful, then, we use it not to silence our thoughts and feelings; but to become more familiar with, and less afraid of them. We listen to our thoughts, but with the understanding that they are impersonal and arbitrary. In this way, their power over us is gradually diminished. We claim the capacity to determine for ourselves which thoughts are helpful and which are not, and to take seriously only those thoughts that deserve to be taken seriously.

Of course, thoughts may not be the only things we try to block out when we meditate. We may also try to avoid our feelings; our doubt and confusion, our fatigue, discomfort and pain. Again though, it’s our ability to clearly recognise what’s going on within that allows us to find some freedom from it.

Now, all this might sound good in theory. But it’s not always easy.

So, how do you go about developing a greater awareness of your thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed by them?

Quite simply, you start out small.

You ask some simple questions of yourself.

You take the time, now and then, to check in.

The guided meditation below will show you how. In it, you’ll be invited to tune into the inner landscape. It’s a bit like the pre-flight routine a pilot goes through before takeoff, or the maintenance check you might perform on a vehicle prior to a long journey. Sometimes, just knowing how you feel helps to induce a sense of balance.

Instructions

  1. Tune into the body, noticing whether you are tense or relaxed, warm or cool, energised or fatigued.
  2. Check the mental traffic, noticing whether your mind is busy or quiet, sharp or scattered, dull or wired.
  3. Assess the emotional weather, noticing whether it’s calm or stormy, welcomed or resisted, vague or obvious.

For more detailed guides through body, mind and mood check out the Checking-In PDF’s.

Listen

I have just started the online mediation course and I love the “simple definition” of meditation! It is encouraging to be reminded of the basics in plain English.

The lessons so far have really helped me re-focus my meditation practice in a very practical no-mess and no-fuss way. I am keen to continue exploring meditation through the online course and to learn various techniques to calm my mind and relax my body. Thanks for developing this well-structured, flexible and practical course.

Vicky F.