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How to Meditate to Clear Your Mind
Meditation is a topic that many people don't fully understand and that has a lot of mixed views surrounding it. Some people view meditation as an almost 'occult' practice focussed on achieving a state above that of normal people and transcending onto another 'plane' of existence. Other people see it as being a great therapeutic technique for healing, and others still don't give it much thought and write it off as a waste of time.
Meditation certainly isn't a waste of time, and nor is it necessarily spiritual or magical. It is very different things to different people. There is not really one form of meditation but rather several and each has different goals and purposes.
What meditation has in common across the board though, is that it is extremely useful, very powerful, and one of the best tools for clearing your mind and for feeling better about yourself. This is a fantastic way to approach any problem with a fresh mind, and without the usual hang-ups, biases, and issues that prevent us from performing our best, living in the moment, or truly expressing ourselves.
Meditation can be used to help you achieve a kind of “mind reset” both in the short term, and in the long term.
Types of Meditation
There are many different forms of meditation that have different goals. The best-known form of meditation is probably transcendental meditation, which involves sitting and then focussing on a mantra. This might be the word “om” repeated over and over, or it might be a humming sound. Either way, the aim is to focus on this sound or word such that you are able to completely eliminate all other distracting thoughts.
Religious meditation often involves focussing on a particular passage from a religious text, or perhaps a prayer. This may seem very different to transcendental meditation and indeed it has very different origins and goals. But what is the same, is that the aim is to focus intently on one thing in order to remove other distracting thoughts.
The same goes for moving meditation, that includes the likes of Tai Chi and that has you focussing on your own body as it moves through space.
The thing that ties all these different uses together is the simple fact that you are trying to actively control your thoughts rather than letting them be led and controlled by outside factors. It is about focus. Whether you are meditating on the answer to a question, trying to understand yourself better or just taking a “time out” this is a useful skill to develop and has been shown to help produce calming brain waves and lower blood pressure.
Imagine that any time you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, or worried about something, you have the option to return to a place where you will feel calm and collected.
Loving Kindness and Gratitude
The key to many forms of meditation then is focus. By learning to choose what you want to pay attention to, you can opt not to focus on the negative or the things that make you stressed. You’ll therefore feel better more of the time, and be less affected by things that would otherwise hurt you.
But what if you choose to focus on something that will actively make you extremely happy? This is the idea behind both “loving kindness meditation” AND “gratitude meditation”.
In the first example (loving kindness), your objective is to meditate specifically on feelings of warmth, self-love, and kindness. In other words, you will think about things that make you happy, think about people who love you, focus on feelings of love, and focus on the things you love about yourself.
Your objective is to cultivate this emotion and then hang on to it – to keep it fresh in your mind and to let it take up the entirety of your focus for a while.
By doing this repeatedly, you will be able to not only enjoy that sense of peace and love in any given moment… but also to let it become your default emotion – such that you always feel that way.
The other option is gratitude. This is very similar to loving kindness motivation, but the goal this time is to focus on the things that make you feel grateful.
What is Enlightenment?
Perhaps you have heard of meditation in the context of enlightenment? Maybe you thought you could use meditation to achieve a higher plane of thought? It’s certainly something many people believe, but if meditation is just about focus, how can this be the case?
What's all that about? Remember that when you practice transcendental meditation (the kind associated with enlightenment) you use a 'mantra' which is used to try and take your mind off of your usual ruminations (by focussing on the sounds you're making).
What happens here is that because you aren't using the areas of your brain that you normally would, these areas can shut down as they would in sleep but with you still awake. Key regions of the brain that usually help us to understand the world around us shut down: such as the region responsible for detecting contrast, or the area associated with identifying edges in the world around us. You even lose the ability to recognize where your own body is in space.