Silencing the mind

You can try the two techniques below to quiet your mind at the beginning of your session. If you want you can make them your whole sit as well. Both techniques make use of the mental attitude of listening. Listening is emphasized in a wide variety of traditions and it is basically what we do in meditation. We listen to our experience. The attitude of listening has in it the attentiveness, receptiveness and the non-judgement that we want to cultivate.

Listening to the sounds
Pay attention to the sounds around you. Maybe you hear a car driving by the street, or kids playing, dogs barking, your neighbors making noises or the distant hum of the city. Just listen. Notice the sounds arise and pass away one after another. Some loud, some quiet, some pleasant, some unpleasant… Treat it as music. When your mind drifts just notice it, don’t make a big deal and go back to listening.

You can also use what is called a mental note. A mental note is a short label you put on your experience. Labeling your experience keeps you on your toes in paying attention and gives your mind something to do. You can think of it like a little game. In this case aim to mentally note to yourself “Hearing” whenever you notice a sound.

Listening to your thoughts
In this technique you just ask yourself what your next thought is going to be and wait for it to pop up*. You pay close attention, focused and attentive like a cat looking at a mouse hole. But it is less about the thought you are going to catch and more about the attitude of listening we mentioned above. It is that alert presence that we are looking for.

When you catch a thought don’t get involved in it. Just notice it. “Ok here is a thought. I wonder what the next one will be”. Make a mental note such as “Thinking” and go back to waiting for the next thought to appear.

As you do this you might have an experience that makes you go, “I think this is working!”. Or maybe you have doubts and you think, “Am I doing this right?” Don’t get caught up in the content of these questions and the mental commentary. They are the thoughts you were waiting to catch!!

*This technique is from Eckhart Tolle’s book Be Here Now.

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