Every time you come to a cross road, whether small or large, an internal voice appears that guides you in a certain direction. Sometimes, particularly in larger decisions, you become aware of this internal voice. What you probably are not aware of is that this internal voice filters the way you see the world and the actions that you take. In my case, this internal voice is called “Jeff”. My parents gave me this label when I was born and it has been with me ever since. Other labels such as: son, brother, dad, soccer player, physical therapist, martial artist, musician, surfer, teacher, student, and on and on, I have acquired with time. All of these labels have created a filter of how I see the world. But what are they? Are they tangible or just mental constructs? To go a step further, when I strip away all of these labels, who is left?
When I first attempted to meditate, I was stuck on two main things: how do I do this and how do I clear my head of all thoughts? After about 2 years of being stuck on these questions, I began to give up my control over the process. Just sitting, allowing myself to have thoughts, but with intention, was acceptable. Then, one day, I was reading a book by author Adyashanti, and something clicked. I read a couple of sentences which I’ll paraphrase here: “when I was a child, the adults around me were a little different but I could not put my finger on what this difference was. Then, one day I realized that they believe what is in their head is the truth; the true reality.” How can everyone’s reality be true if there are so many differences? And, with this being said, is there such thing as a true reality? The first thing I did was start to question my own “true reality”. Where had my belief systems come from? My personality? My filter? I came to the realization that there is no “I”. The “I” that is known as Jeff is a compilation of thoughts over years of existence. All the experiences I had up to that point were filtered through my thoughts in the moment in which they occurred. Some of these thoughts resonate and may turn into full blown belief systems. I had been living my whole life through these belief systems and I did not even know where they came from! Now that I was aware of this, I turned the spotlight on thoughts.
I had been told by multiple people that the goal of meditation was to clear your mind. Why is it so hard to clear your mind? When you sit in silence, one thought after another pops into your head. Where do these thoughts come from? Who is controlling them? When you try to direct a thought, you are able to do so, yet you are unable to turn them off when you desire. Not only are these thoughts hard to control, they end up turning into your faith, political beliefs, judgments, and navigation system for daily decisions. These aspects of your life are so strong, they may lead to avoiding relationships or interactions due to differences that are based out of thoughts over which you have very little control. This blew my mind! For the next week, every time I interacted with a patient and found myself agreeing or disagreeing, I realized this was based on beliefs that had been created by these ungraspable thoughts jumping in and out of my head. As this realization grew, not only were the small day-to-day decisions changed, the pillars or foundation that formed “Jeff” were starting to crumble. Who I was at the age of 10 was different from 20, 30, and 35. It was always changing and I started to wonder if anything was permanent; unchanging.
Meditating with a purpose (in this case, self inquiry) came to me from the above process. There have been many people in the past who pose the question, “Who am I?” I never understood this question until I went through the process earlier discussed. Now I sit, in silence, and ponder the question “Who am I?” Sitting with this question allows some of these mental constructs to be addressed. Why does this matter? More and more scientific evidence is coming out suggesting that chronic stress wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. But where does this stress come from? This stress comes from thoughts. Say you are driving in your car and someone speeds up just to cut you off. This is just an event that occurred. A car sped up to go in front of you. However, in milliseconds, you have a thought “this was directed at me!” which quickly turns into an emotion, usually anger, which again drives another thought. This happens with every experience in life. Think back to when you had a big test the following day. You would spend the prior day or week thinking about the future test. With these thoughts, you were emotionally and physically experiencing taking, and possibly failing, this test. In honesty, you only had to experience taking the test one time, no matter what the outcome was.
Wouldn’t it be nice to experience a car cutting you off or taking a big test without these thought-driven emotions? This is what meditation can do for you. Becoming aware that your thoughts are not you is a big step in the right direction and the fastest way there is to sit with the question, “Who am I?”
Breathing alone can help to decrease blood pressure, stress, and other physiologic markers. However, adding meditation with a purpose may lead you to the source of cause for mental or physical stress.
Find your seat. Sit upright, with a cushion under your hips so your knees are slightly lower. Close your eyes, sway forward-back and side-to-side, until you find a place of balance (should almost feel like zero gravity). After finding your seat, sit and observe noises in your surroundings. Once your attention has focused, try to observe a thought as it pops into your head. No need to force it out. Just observe as it comes and goes. If you allow your thought to have substance within the dark space your closed eyes have provided, you may be able to view it from a third person perspective. This is a nice state of mind to pose the question, “Who am I?”
Hopefully this helps start the process of getting to the bottom of your stress. Next time something irritates you, makes you angry, or even adds a moment of happiness, take the time in the moment to observe what thought led to that emotion. It takes time and practice, but in the long run, it is well worth the effort!