Quieting the Tumult Between Your Ears

As the world outside our control gets grimmer, it’s easy to let our thoughts run wild. The noise in our mind can become deafening. Here’s how I work on quieting it.

Over the past year I’ve had a meditation practice. It’s one of those things that makes a noticeable difference when I practice consistently but is easy to forget about when I don’t. There have been months when I practiced daily, and stretches when I didn’t practice at all. Recently I’m trying to get back into the groove of consistent practice and it’s reminded me of an important truth: there is a lot of noise going on in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a confession of insanity or hearing voices. We all have noise going on in our head. The degree to which we recognize it for what it is can be an indicator of the strength of our mental muscles. Why? Just like our physical muscles become stronger through exercise, through practice and repetition we can learn to turn down the noise and control it.

A corollary to the truth that we all have noise in our heads is that you are not your thoughts. Thoughts may flit through your mind, but just because they appear in there doesn’t mean you put them there. Just because thoughts are in my head doesn’t mean that those thoughts are who I am. This is part of the human condition and learning to control the noise, the torrent of thoughts, is one of the important skills that we all need to learn.

During my practice today I felt like I was playing a word association game:

focus on the breath – that book Breath that I read last week was really good – I need to read more books – Hunt for Red October is one of my favorites – Sean Connery was in Red October, I’m sad he passed away – we’re all going to get Covid and die – why am I sitting here again? – where did that come from? so morbid – focus on the breath

Should I feel like a failure? Of course not. It certainly wasn’t a meditation session that I’ll win any medals for, but then again I’ll never win a medal for meditating. I think it’s more like one thread in a grand tapestry. If every thread is the same it’s going to make a boring tapestry. It’s the variety and variation that makes the whole interesting.

When you feel like the tumult and noise is too much, simply recognize that it likely is. Focus on your breath, appreciate the small victory of recognition, and know that your mental muscles have grown just a bit stronger.


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