How not to think

I have an old friend who is suffering from anxiety. I mean, we all are (I know I am), but he has additional issues having to do with health. I suggested meditation, and he said he had tried, but he couldn’t stop thinking! He couldn’t get a “clear mind!”

I told him that he was being over-ambitious. Start by just sitting still for five minutes. After succeeding at that for a few days, add listening to breath and ambient noise. Then add feeling your body…

After doing this for a while, add noticing your thoughts. Now, this is hard. You’re thinking your thoughts, how do you notice a thought that you’re thinking?

Here’s my very amateurish, totally not a yogi approach. I believe our mind/brain has dozens if not hundreds of somewhat independent agents, each of whom is making their own noise. Our left-brain interpreter (itself an agent) is the storyteller of our brain. We listen to it more than other agents because it’s louder and its stories are more complete and compelling. But we can hear, if we listen, more of our agents.

You know that trick, at a party, of listening to the hubbub of the party, then zeroing in on a single voice? Do it the other way. Soften your focus, zoom out to sense the field of noise, not any one piece of it.

Do this with your thoughts. They’re all making noise, listen to the crowd. This makes any one thought or story seem less engrossing.

Try this with your vision, too. Allow the entire field of color and shadow and light to be present, while not sharpening your focus on any one detail. When you (inevitably) do focus, zoom out again.