By Jimmy Warden
I have been practicing meditation for a little over two years now with a great amount of consistency. There haven’t been many days within that time frame where I have “missed” a day of meditation. The reason why I started mediating was that I wanted to become more present in life and have more control over my thoughts, actions, and emotional regulation. I wanted to be able to enjoy the beauty of the present moment and be able to adjust my actions in the present if it presented itself as adverse.
Before I started mediating I had learned of these benefits through podcasts and informative articles from studies that had been conducted. Other benefits include lower levels of stress, increased focus and productivity, and a heightened awareness and appreciation of gratitude and other positive emotion. As a result of practicing mediation for this amount of time, I have learned that we are not our thoughts, we are not our emotions, and that the mind can be quieted.
People are often skeptical or even afraid to meditate because they feel like they can’t “stop their thoughts”. This is a common misconception of meditation’s purpose. Its true purpose is to create a heightened awareness of thought recognition, that way we can act more frequently in alignment with our moral values, rather than acting through mid-brain impulses. We all have certain values, but these often get thrown to the side as thoughts flood our mind. These thoughts are often attached to cravings, impulses, and other ways to obtain instant gratification. This is why the practice of noting in meditation is important for us to understand and apply in our lives.
Noting can be described as the awareness or recognition of our conscious thoughts. Our brains have a tendency to “jump” from thought to thought and those thoughts are often connected through complexes. These complexes are connections that are made in our brain through experience. For example, a complex that I have is in regards to my self-worth. When people question my actions, I often revert to this idea that I am unworthy or inferior. This is rooted deeply in my desire to please people, hence why I feel unworthy or like I let people down when they question something I did.
However, since I’ve began meditating, I have practiced noting in my meditation because meditation requires you to be in a quiet place with nothing but your thoughts and your surroundings. When thoughts arise in your meditation, recognizing that you’re having a thought is the act of noting. A way that I have practiced this is by using phrases to “catch” my thoughts, such as “oh, there’s a thought” or “oh, thinking”. I also don’t attempt to do this for every thought that pops up because that gets exhausting, but it is best to use it when you realize your mind is drifting into thought patters, rather than focusing on your breath or the weight of your body. Focusing on the breath or the weight of your body is called focused attention, which goes hand in hand with noting. Without focused attention, noting cannot take place.
The reason why this act of noting is so important is because it allows us to take more control of our thoughts, that way we don’t become our thoughts. It allows our conscious mind to take control because we’ll have learned how to recognize thoughts and pause for a moment to recognize what it is we might be thinking or doing (as a result of the thinking). This heightened recognition allows us to make better choices that are more conscious and brought about by thought versus impulse. This can be a breakthrough for most because we are creatures of impulse.
We have a tendency to resort to this because these impulsive actions usually allow us to meet our needs through instant gratification rather than saying no to the impulse and acting in a way that aligns with our values. Think about this scenario. Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m going to make a change”, and that change requires different action than your usual impulse (or even habit) that immediately meets a certain need? Then, despite making this claim, you still revert back to that old impulse or habit? That’s due to a lack of awareness in your thought, which leads to acting in those old manners. However, this can be minimized through practicing meditation, and specifically noting. Engaging in noting on a daily basis can also help us regulate our emotions more appropriately, so that we can understand, that we are neither our thoughts or our emotions.
As we start discussing emotion in the next parts of this post, it is important to understand that our behavior and actions serve as emotional regulation. That is why we cry or have a lump in our throat or stomach when we are sad, clench our fists or yell when we are angry, get tingling sensations or smile when we are happy or full of joy, and why we sweat or have an increased heart rate when we are nervous or anxious. These actions and behaviors serve as ways to regulate or emotions and try to return us to an equilibrium (or equanimity). These behaviors are also directly tied into our thoughts and this is how behavior is connected to the concept of noting.
After practicing noting through meditation, we can use this practice to help create an awareness of how we are projecting our emotions. Have you ever done some of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but failed to realize you were doing it until it was too late? I know I have, which is why I really starting engaging in meditation. I didn’t want to react from emotional impulse. I wanted to be proactive in how I approached situations because far too often I have let anger and frustration get the best of me and that has affected some of my past relationships with people.
If we have an awareness of when we are beginning to experience some of these emotions, we can act more appropriately and consciously, in order to be the person that we need to be to make the best out of the situation presented to us in the present moment. Being able to apply this in our lives, also allows to create a connection to the present moment and create a flow state where nothing else matters except for the task in front of us and it can help us quiet our mind.
Flow state can be thought of as total immersion, focus, and joy with an activity that we are engaged in. It is also known as “being in the zone”. You know, that feeling where your attention is on one thing and one thing only? That feeling where you’re focused on performing that activity, but you aren’t emotionally attached to the outcome, rather focused on the step you are taking at that very moment? This way of being allows us to quiet our mind because our attention on our activity is very soft, considering our only focus is what we’re doing. We aren’t worried about what could go wrong, we are not judging ourselves for not doing the activity the right way, instead we are just focused on being whatever we need to be in order to do our best.
This way of being allows us to be in more control of our emotional response because once we realize our emotions are “too high” or “too low” we can try to find that soft spot back in the middle where our attention is focused softly on the task at hand. Often times, this allows us to manifest our ideal reality because we are just focused on being versus all of the other interference that can come with performance.
Knowing that we are not our thoughts, knowing that we are not our emotions, and knowing that the mind can be quieted are just a few things that I have learned thus far since I have begun practicing meditation. Noting can help us crate a higher level of awareness of our thoughts and emotions, so that we don’t project those impulsive thoughts and feelings into the world around us. It also helps us create a flow state more frequently, which really helps us quiet our mind, and focus on the present moment, so that we can behave in a more conscious manner rather than in an impulsive or habituated manner. This can only happen when we apply these practices that can be found in meditation.
If you are interested in giving meditation a try, I would recommend using guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm (I prefer Headspace and have a subscription, which I can share with people who are interested in starting their own practice. You can also find more guided meditation option on YouTube. If you’re feeling really ambitious, just go find a quiet space in your home or in nature and try to just take some deep breaths and keep a soft focus on your breath for starters. As your mind wanders (because it will!) just notice when it does and bring that soft focus back to your breath. Start by putting a minute timer on and see how long you can maintain your focus and slowly build your stamina from there.
Thank you for reading and may the gift of presence be with you!