How do you feel when watching a sad movie? Do you laugh when you hear a good joke? Are you angry when you hear about an injustice? Our emotions are ever changing, depending on what's going on around us and how we react to it. So where does anxiety come from? Well, lots of places, but one huge trigger is our thoughts.
Recently there was a question posted by a reader who commented, "When I go to bed I am afraid someone will break into the house and kill us." She then noted that she has trouble sleeping. Of course How would you feel if you had that thought? Anxiety is a very appropriate emotional response to the idea that someone is about to kill you. So, how do you clear your mind from such things that are highly unlikely to occur? Meditation is one way, and the focus of this Share Post.
First, let me define meditation. Meditation itself is a very generic term that refers to using one's mind to contemplate, focus, and achieve a deeper state of awareness and relaxation.
It has a tremendously long history and is a component of nearly every religion known to man. In addition, non-religious persons use meditation as well.
It is well beyond my scope to describe how all the major religions (let alone all the others) practice mediation, so I thought I would talk about some important key elements from three different viewpoints: Hinduism, Christianity, and a secular (nonreligious) viewpoint.
I am by no means an expert regarding Hinduism, but I chose to write about it for two reasons. First, Yoga, which is popular among people of many religious and cultural backgrounds, originated from Hinduism. Secondly, there are some specific words found in Hinduism that very clearly delineate what a person's state of mind and relaxation might or might not be.
This is not a complete list; I only picked those from the list that I thought were especially appropriate to understand:
- Ksipta: describes the inability to think, listen, or sit still. One is agitated in this state and his/her thoughts race from one to another.
- Viksipta: seems to describe a running state of thoughts that are not processed, however, there is more of an ability to think than with ksipta.
- Ekagra: describes a state of calmness. One can pay attention and focus.
- Nirodha: appears to describe the greatest level of centeredness, where one is completely focused and not distracted.
I am not suggesting that you memorize this list of words (I am not even sure how to pronounce them); however, I think it is a good thing to be able to describe your level of focus and relaxation. Are you in a constant state of Viksipta? Do you ever reach Nirodha? If your thoughts are constantly racing or you never feel relaxed, it is a good idea for you to find a type of meditation that you feel comfortable using.
Yoga is highly effective for clearing the mind and relaxing the body. Although it has it is origins in Hinduism, there are many people who practice yoga without using the spiritual elements of Hinduism. I do realize that there are religious people who think that a non-spiritual practice of yoga is not possible. It is beyond the scope of this Share Post to debate that point. If you do not feel comfortable trying yoga, then don't! There are other things you can do!
Yoga utilizes the same abdominal breathing technique that my colleagues and I have been teaching for years. It also utilizes stretching and standing/lying down in various poses while utilizing the breathing. From a secular approach, the point would be to clear your mind of anxiety provoking thoughts, focus on your breathing, and stretch appropriately.
As with any exercise program, it is wise to consult with your physician before beginning. There are many places to take yoga classes, including yoga studios, community colleges, and classes sponsored by cities. Nintendo has produced the very popular "Wii Fit" for their Wii video game system, which includes some yoga exercises. You can also find yoga exercises on the internet.
A Christian Approach
For Christians, meditation involves prayer and the use of the Bible. There is a very old tradition of prayer in Christianity called Lectio Divina. It is not a system of prayer; rather it is the act of spending time with God while contemplating on a passage of Scripture.
Each year, I have my psychology students at Vanguard University give Lectio Divina a try. Although you might read about Lectino Divina used in a slightly different way, I give my students three steps:
- Pick a scripture passage, read it, and write your intellectual understanding of the passage (this accesses one's "head knowledge" about the passage. All the students are very good at this).
- Read the passage aloud, putting your own name into the passage. So, for example, if I chose Psalm 23:1, I would say, "The Lord is my, Jennifer's, Shepherd, I shall not want....." This changes the experience from an intellectual activity to an experiential/emotional one. It is also useful for clearing the mind of anxiety provoking thoughts.
- The third step is for the students to sit quietly for 30 minutes, focus on their scripture passage, pray (in an unstructured way), as well as to "listen" to what God might have to say to them. Distracting thoughts are to be pushed aside. This step is much harder for some of my students.
Each year that I give this assignment, I get similar reactions. Some students state that they were not excited about doing Lectio Divina, but then they were amazed by how it calmed them and drew them closer to God. Some students talk about how difficult it was for them to focus and rid themselves of distracting thoughts.
A Non-Religious (Secular) Approach: The Peaceful Scene with Cue Word
You do not have to be religious to use meditation to clear your mind of anxious thoughts. While utilizing the abdominal breathing or the Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), bring to mind a scene that is peaceful, relaxing, and without controversy Most likely you ought to be a lone in this scene, but if you have a solid relationship with someone without turmoil or a high level of conflict, you can include them. Also, make sure the place you pick does not have anxious thoughts associated with it. Some people pick the beach, the mountains, my office, or their backyard. Picture this place in detail while you do either the breathing or the PMR. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, textures.
Once you have your scene clearly in your mind, then bring a word or simple phrase to mind that you can say out loud, such as, "beauty," "peaceful," or "I am calm." After you practice pairing the breathing (or PMR), peaceful scene, and your word a number of times, you may be able to clear your mind in a busy situation (such as at work, or while driving) simply by bringing your cue word or phrase to mind.
One thing that all forms of meditation have in common is that they all take a lot of practice! You are not going to be able to do any of them well right off the bat. You have to "train," just as if you were working out in a gym. However, even if you only devote 10 minutes a day to either some Yoga exercises, Lectio Divina, or The Peaceful Scene, over time you will develop a greater ability to clear your mind of anxious thoughts. If after a few weeks these methods do not seems to make a difference, please consider consulting with a therapist or coach to help guide you!