Space, Silence, Inner Body, and Breath: Ways to Turn Off The Mind
Our minds are like a television set that won’t turn off. If you notice, you’ll see that thoughts run through your head constantly. Some are beneficial, but many are automatic and “toxic”. These “toxic” thoughts (“I’m running out of time”, “I hate my boss!”, “I have to balance my checkbook!”) usually bring stress head on, and jerk you right out of the present. It seems rather daunting, doesn’t it? The bad news is that most of us are so used to this that we don’t realize the tensions in our lives that they cause. The good news is that we can learn to transform our minds into an educational asset that can almost solely assist us with remembering, planning, etc. I like to think of it as training your mind to be an i-pad.
How can we do this? By noticing thoughts as they happen, and redirecting your attention back to the present. How? If you’re in a state of mindfulness (or deeply in “now”), you’ll probably notice that the automatic thoughts that you usually have are not happening. Does this sound familiar? The way the mind works, we can’t be in a state of “now” or having numerous “bad” thoughts run wild.
The more still the mind is, the less stress one is likely to experience in his or her everyday life. Mindfulness techniques help not only to soothe and quiet the mind, but also helps to educate it on a more still and peaceful way. The purpose of this portion of this course is to introduce a few very easy methods that will encourage the mind to be still, thereby linking you into the present moment, where calm and serenity live.
This chapter introduces to you (or reviews if you’re already familiar) with age-old techniques that are almost guaranteed to dissolve stress within less than thirty minutes. Keep in mind, you can practice any, or all of them as often as you want, and usually wherever you want.
We’re breathing whether we pay attention to it, or not. From the day we’re born until depart, our lungs are passing inhalations and exhalations. One of the most refreshing things we can do is to listen to our breath (as if you’re listening to a beautiful symphony). Imagine how your life would feel if it was breathing you were always aware of (as opposed to the “toxic” thoughts that so often monopolize our conscious attention. Shifting your attention to breathing will “shut your mind up”. The mind has no choice but to silence itself when attention leaves it.
Close your eyes, and listen to your next inhalation. Really pay close attention to it. Feel the air going in your lungs. Listen to the blast of air. How did that feel? Now, listen to an inhalation and an exhalation (known as a cycle of breath.) Do you notice the difference? A lot more still, isn’t it?
Inner Body Awareness:
Our bodies have a lot going on inside of it. We have blood that flows, a heart that beats, molecules that vibrate, and so much more. Have you ever paid attention to how your body feels? Scratching an itch, coughing, and swallowing are very easy to notice, but what about the more subtle energy that most of us don’t notice. Another way to distract the mind, is to focus your attention on the sensations that are going on under your skin.
Hold up your hands, and imagine that they’re getting warmer. If you sense anything, you’re successfully feeling the energy in your hands. Specifically, you’re directing blood flow into that part of your body. You can practice this with any part of your body you choose. Also, are there moments when you take notice of how your body feels when nervous, angry, or sad? Is there any difference from how your body feels when you’re not experiencing the emotion? Start to notice the way your body feels when feeling different things (where in your body speaks out when you’re feeling love? Excitement?)
Playing around with your body sensations (inner and outer) can withdraw attention from the mind, and into the present. It may be tough to do, but with practice you’ll get there.
Seeing the Space:
Space is all around us. Space is inside of us. Space is in between us. It’s almost unfathomable to consider that something so omnipresent is also so invisible. The art of fung shui depends on space for the purpose of increasing harmony. Clearing things out in your life invites peace. By attracting space in our lives, we create more of a sense of harmony (the exact opposite of stress). How much space is in your life (from personal space to how much physical space there is in your surroundings?) Have you ever tried to “see” space? Here’s an exercise that can also help to quiet the mind down, and realize the space that you may not have realized is there.
Look at an object in the room. Stare at it. Without moving your eyes, notice your peripheral vision. Without moving your eyes, notice what is all the way to the right, and all the way to the left. Without moving your eyes, notice what is all the way up, and all the way down. Continue to hold your eyes on the object. Focus more on what’s around the object than the object itself. Now, look around the room. Notice the space that is all around you. This is the space that makes the room, an actual room. If you were underwater, this is where all the actual water would be. Do you notice a depth to the room that wasn’t there? This is a brilliant exercise to do outside. Imagine how much space you’ll see!
A bonus exercise: During a beautiful day outdoors, look out into the distance. Notice the farthest tree that you can. Look at the leaves (which will look miniscule!) Can you see any of the leaves dancing back and forth? If you can, you’re in the present moment. The mind cannot throw thoughts at you if you’re in this state of heightened observation.
Listening for Silence:
Silence is golden. I truly believe that the author if this famous phrase probably knew the silence that is always there (but not always available) for us to listen to. It’s the kind of quiet that inevitably brings peace with it. Most of us are used to constant sounds (and more often than not: noise.) We rarely ever hear true silence (which makes this exercise all the more enjoyable!)
There are wonderful moments when we can sense the complete absence of sound, but often these moments are so rare that we practically forget there is such a thing. The purpose of this exercise is to begin becoming more aware that there is silence (so often hidden from sounds and noise), and to begin inviting more of it into your life.
Do you have music playing? Do you have the television on? Turn them off. Right there in that split second, do you notice a layer of quiet? Listen to it. Now what do you hear underneath that? Is the air conditioner or heater on? Turn it off. Can you notice another layer of silence? If you can, you’ve just discovered how to invite more silence into your life.
I personally recommend practicing this exercise regularly (even if discovering existing silence for a few minutes!) Listening for quiet can often turn you into a more quiet being.
As stated above, you can practice any of these methods at any time. I don’t recommend practicing this while driving a vehicle, or while operating any machinery where not paying attention can lead to injury.
David C Campano, MSEd