A full mind needs mindfulness. When your mind is full and thoughts are just a whirlwind, it’s hard to concentrate on anything. Or does this happen when you try to fall asleep, thoughts won’t leave you alone and you go over the day’s events again and again?
Whatever the reason for your busy mind, mindfulness has some techniques to help you slow the race down and silence the clamour. The starting point is often bringing our focus to our breath, without judgment, without trying to change the pattern of our breathing.
Let’s explore a couple of situations and see if they ring true for you.
Can’t sleep – mind too full
This is a very common scenario for many of us and we all have our own ways of dealing with it. Some of us may ‘start again’ on the rituals of going to bed, others of us may turn to a book, or a hot drink. All of these are perfectly good approaches to that particular problem, but let’s take a look at some of the mindful techniques that we can use.
Relaxing to go to sleep is a time when we can practice focusing on our breath and body. Mindfulness meditation often begins with focusing on the breath, in and out, without trying to change it, just noticing the flow in and out. This awareness of our breathing is a way of distracting ourselves from the whirl of thought. If we can bring our focus to the feeling of the breath moving in and out of our bodies, the rise and fall of the ribs, the feel of the air passing through the nose or mouth, then we can divert ourselves from focusing on our thoughts. It is highly likely that initially we will be unable to maintain focus on our breathing and away from our thoughts, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
A meditation that is often helpful for calming the mind before sleep is a visualisation technique. This means we build a picture in our minds of a scene. The picture for this meditation is a stream with leaves floating on its surface. The stream is flowing so that the leaves can float past unimpeded. As we relax and focus on our breath, we will experience thoughts coming into our minds. As each thought appears, we take it and place it on a leaf and let it float away. The idea of this meditation is to encourage us to see our thoughts as transient and to allow them to ‘float away’. Sometimes this type meditation uses other imagery, clouds floating past, balloons floating away, but the concept is the same, see your thoughts as transient and allow them to move away. In this way we can clear our minds and with a clear mind, are able to fall asleep.
Unable to focus – too many things on your mind
Often this situation occurs when we are anxious, and it may feel completely disabling. We may find it hard to make decisions, or even simple choices. We are stuck in our habitual responses, frozen in time.
This, very brief, practice provides a way to step out of automatic pilot mode and into the present moment. What we are doing is creating a space to reconnect with your natural resilience and wisdom. We are simply tuning in to what is happening right now, without expectation of any particular result. Its known as ‘S.T.O.P.’
S – Stop and take stock, checking in to head, heart and body.
We bring ourselves into the present moment by deliberately asking – ‘what is my experience right now?’
· Thoughts – what are we saying to ourselves, what images are coming to mind
· Feelings – enjoying, neutral, upset, excited, sad, angry, etc.
· Sensations – physical sensations, tightness, holding, lightness
We acknowledge and register our experience, even if it is uncomfortable.
T – “Take” a breath and direct our awareness to our breathing.
Our breath can function as an anchor to bring us into the present and help us tune into a state of awareness and stillness. Take a deep breath in and out. Then continue to breathe normally. We should gently direct our full attention to breathing, to each in-breath and to each out-breath as they follow, one after the other.
O – Open and observe, expanding our awareness outward.
We expand the field of our awareness around and beyond our breathing, so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, our posture, and facial expression, then further outward to what is happening around us: sights, sounds, smells, etc. It may be helpful to count – 4 things we can see, 3 things we can hear, 2 thing we can touch and 1 thing we can smell.
As best we can, bring this expanded awareness to our next moments.
P – Proceed with new possibilities, continuing without expectation.
Next, we let our attention move into the world around us, sensing how things are right now.
Rather than react habitually or mechanically, we can be curious and open, responding naturally. We have broken the automatic pilot response, without expecting a result.
Try and practice these techniques next time you find yourself with a busy mind.