Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quieting Your Mind and Making Friends With Your Experience Through Contemplation

By Ann Wolman, L.Ac.

As practitioners of Chinese medicine, we tell our patients every day about the importance of relaxation and stress reduction. We encourage them to take time each day for quiet contemplation. Many people are motivated toward contemplative prayer, but they are worried that they will somehow do it wrong or fail at the task. Contemplation and relaxation are not jobs that we need to complete or endeavors we can fail.

I would like to encourage you to do some contemplative prayer or meditation with the simple idea of slowing down and making friends with your mental process. There is no single way to quiet the mind.

Every religion in the world encourages some form of prayer or meditation. Some traditions suggest prayer in order to cultivate a relationship with God, others offer meditation as a way to focus our minds and tame our emotions. Numerous studies have shown relaxation to have a beneficial effect on mood, blood pressure, pain control, digestion and sleep.

If you take the time to watch your mind, you see that the nature of thoughts and feelings is to rise and fall. Even if we want to, we cannot hold them or make them permanent. This is often compared with the nature of waves rising and falling on the surface while the ocean depths remain calm.

As you pay more attention, you may notice that there are short gaps of silence between thoughts and moments of peace between the waves of emotion. The notion is to attend less to our thoughts and ideas about our feelings, and more to the silent awareness that is always present within us. We become less identified with our mental state and more grounded in silence.

There are an endless variety of relaxation techniques. Generally speaking, these techniques offer a reference point for the mind. This can be focusing on one's breath, a sound, or a saying, such as an affirmation or prayer, or even something else. In any case, the idea is to spend time quieting the mind itself.

The Nobel Peace Prize winning monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers a simple introductory meditation practice that I have taught to numerous patients. Just to emphasize: you cannot do this wrong. If you can only sit for 5 minutes, you have been successful. If you run screaming from the room and your own craziness, you have done it right, and if you fall into a deep sleep, it is just fine.


This is a breathing meditation and ideally you will begin with trying it for 5 minutes a day. Watching your breath, you will say to yourself a short word or phrase with each "in" breath and with each "out" breath. You can say the words out loud or not, whichever you prefer.

It goes like this:


Spend 5 or so minutes with each sequence pair (IN/OUT, DEEP/SLOW) for a total of 20 minutes or so. It can be done sitting down, lying down or even walking. You can't do it wrong.

You are likely to notice that within what seems like a nano-second, your mind will begin to wander. You will think about all the things you should be doing. You may congratulate yourself for your work at this meditation thing. You may berate yourself for some past mistake. Mental chatter is endlessly varied.

Your mind may wander down long roads of the past and the future. It may take a long time to realize that you are no longer thinking IN/OUT, DEEP/SLOW, etc. No worry. You will realize it, and when you do, just gently label whatever flights of fancy you are indulging in "thinking" and come back to the meditation.

Begin to notice the space between the words, when nothing is occurring, and give it attention. You may find that peace and quiet are always present; we need only attend to them.

If you need more information on relaxation techniques, ask your practitioner at the Clinic for guidance.

Enjoy the peace.