"My mind just won't shut up" is the most common excuse I hear when people explain to me why they can't and don't regularly attempt to make meditation a part of their daily life. It's the reason why so many of us feel as if we are doomed to be victims of busyness and scrambled thoughts, never experiencing the peace that comes with daily quiet time.
As someone who has struggled with that same issue (and still at times find myself battling it), I know how difficult quieting your mind can be. But when we do experience those quiet moments, we understand how powerful they can be, how rejuvenated they can make us feel, and how much simpler our "big" issues can become.
Here are 6 techniques that I personally have found helpful in quieting my mind:
1. Focus On What You See When You Close Your Eyes
If asked to describe what we see when we close our eyes, most of us would describe it as the colour black. However, the truth is that our closed eyes are often telling us a much more interesting story. Close your eyes right now, focus on what you see. Is it actually just the solid colour black? Or is it more of a mixture of colours, some of which are undoubtedly created by the lighting in the room in which you are sitting?
No matter what you see, when you actually pay attention to it, it's definitely something that can draw quite a bit of your attention, and I've often found it to be a great starting point to quieting my mind. At the very least it helps to shift my mind away from scattered thoughts, instead closing in on one focused thought - one that often sparks the creative element of my brain, which starts looking for images amongst the colourful display.
2. Scan Your Body
Our bodies are pretty damn intricate, and when you actually break them down part by part they can be quite interesting to explore. When it comes to quieting your mind, this same intricacy can also be quite a powerful tool. One of my personal favourite ways to bring myself into a quieter state of mind is to scan my body from top to bottom, focusing on how each part feels as I pay attention to it.
Once you can move past the judgemental thoughts of how stupid or silly this seems, you may actually find yourself pleasantly surprised by how much energy you feel. I find that focusing on this energetic flow not only quiets my mind but shifts my focus to the internal elements of who I am, rather than the distractions of the outside world.
3. Stay Connected To Nature
As someone who just moved from a nature-filled suburb into a condo in the heart of downtown Toronto, the difficulty of finding ways to regularly connect with nature has never been higher, but I intend to make it work. I intend to make it work because I know how important it is to my own well-being, and because I know that nature is the perfect surrounding in which to find peace.
Nature is both colourful and happening like a city, but it manages to capture these elements in a way that is much more calming and connective, rather than rampant and distracting. The next time you are looking to quiet your mind, spend some time outdoors. Focus on how naturally a stream flows or how calmly a blade of grass sits and realize that you too can flow and be calm just as naturally.
4. The Power Of Your Breath
There's a reason why the majority of guided meditations begin by instructing us to focus on our breath. It's something that we all do, all the time, yet it happens and adapts so naturally that we can often go days without ever actually thinking about it. Giving some attention to your breath can be an incredibly powerful way to quiet your mind and relax your body in general.
A particular breathing pattern I'll often practise when aiming to quiet my mind is to do 3 cycles of breath where I breath in through my nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 3, and then release through my mouth for another 4 seconds. I'll also ensure that the breath inflates my stomach (rather than my chest), since this type of breathing in particular seems most calming.
5. Go Through What You're Grateful For
We love inundating our minds with negative thought patterns and basking in reasons why people should feel sorry for us, but we rarely take the time to go through what we are appreciative of in life. This technique may not quiet your mind completely, but it certainly helps to shut up the Negative Nancy we often let run as a part of our auto-pilot.
I've found the best way to do this is to sit down with a paper and pen, and jot down - without judgement - everything in life that you are grateful for. It could be something as heartwarming as your loving pet, or as seemingly silly as your easily accessible parking spot at work. The bottom line is we all have things to be grateful for in life, and can gain a lot from taking some time to focus on them rather than on our seemingly insurmountable problems.
6. Drop The Label
So many of us admire people who can effectively meditate or quiet their minds, yet we also love labelling ourselves as incapable of being like them. I don't mean to sound condescending, but just because you tried meditating once and ended up just thinking about dinner doesn't mean you are incapable of experiencing a quiet mind.
Meditation, like everything else, is something that you need to work on and be committed to practicing. They say it takes about 21 days to develop a new habit, so why not push yourself to regularly practice something you'd like to experience rather than opt to take the quitter's mentality? You have a lot more control than you may think!