A busy mind isn’t so bad…

…as long as you give it some downtime once in a while. At least that’s what I try to do every day whether it is sitting on my meditation cushion, lying in Savasana, or curled up on my green chair in my backyard gazing out at the trees. But lately my mind seems to be busier than usual and harder to settle. I was starting to feel frustrated, agitated, restless, and downright angry some mornings that I couldn’t seem to quiet my mind. Many times I gave up, grabbed my iPad and checked my email instead.

Meditation isn’t about emptying the mind completely or making thoughts go away. It’s about sitting with what is there in your mind regardless of whether it’s stormy or calm, and not reacting. I know this…I’ve studied this…I’ve practiced this…but it’s not always easy. So one morning I decided to take a more investigative approach and examine just what was going on in this monkey mind of mine. Here’s what I discovered:

1. My morning mind after sleep is definitely quieter than my evening mind after a busy day. Which proves to me that sleep is such an important requirement to give the mind a chance to restore, re-group, and re-set. Upon awakening, one can then ease into their day with a calm mind..unless it was a particularly crappy sleep…

2.  If the crappy sleep was due to thoughts racing, there is no use getting all worked up about it in the middle of the night. Instead, a 3:00 am breath awareness practice often helps. If the crappy sleep was due to a partner snoring or a son making pizza at 3:00 am, there is still no use fuming about it. Ear plugs AND a breath awareness practice seem to be the ticket…

3. There seems to be a theme to many of my thoughts –  “shoulda/woulda/coulda”. These come up before bed when my mind seems to rehash the events of the day. Why do we do that to ourselves so often? Second-guessing ourselves, wishing we had made different decisions, self-criticizing, blaming others…no wonder it is so hard to sit quietly with these thoughts. But in recognizing this pattern of thinking, I can then change it. Change it the very moment the thought comes in the first place and redirect it towards a more skillful way of thinking and doing, so that at the end of day I can look back and be content with the choices I’ve made. In fact, in this case there would be no need to look back at the end of day because I would have already let it go…happy, content, accepting, and confident in my right action. Such is the benefit of practicing more self-awareness.

4. I’m in awe of the power of the mind. Its workings are truly remarkable and scientists continue to investigate its potential. What’s even more incredible is that ancient yogis were able to tap into this potential through their meditative practices thousands of years ago, long before science had anything to say about it. So sometimes when I “go deep”, and it feels like I’ve connected with a vast expansive field of energy, I wonder if this is the place an ancient sage might have been. Beyond the body, beyond the breath, beyond the mind itself… floating in bliss. Am I imagining this? As soon as I question it, I lose it…

5. Some days I meditate for other people. I send them well-wishes, healing energy, love, compassion, strength…and it creates a real warm fuzzy feeling in me. It’s not that I do this so I can feel all good about myself; it’s that I do this with the genuine intention to help another human being and what comes back to me is the positive effects of loving-kindness. Studies have shown that people who cultivate feelings of compassion, love, joy, and kindness for others report those same feelings more often in themselves. The Buddhist practice of “Metta” or loving-kindness meditation, is a great way to get out of your own head and into your heart.

There are many other interesting insights I am discovering as I investigate my own mind, some of them not so nice and others pretty darn cool. It turns out that having a busy mind is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a totally NORMAL thing. And watching this monkey mind is teaching me that whatever is floating around in there is not necessarily the Truth (I am NOT my thoughts!). The Truth just might be in that place visited by both me and the ancient sages one morning as I sat on my meditation cushion…

Buddha from Shanti