Get comfortable with stillness and you’ll stop filling each moment with concerns
There I go again, worrying. It’s long past midnight, and I’ve a busy day ahead. But my mind races with thoughts. Like a constant stream of trains, they fly along a myriad of tracks each leading to potential problems that, in reality, probably will never happen. Yet at night, they seem plausible.
My mindset isn’t uncommon. I know you meet similar difficulties occasionally, if not most nights. When your head hits the pillow and the lights are out, you are alone with yourself. There’s nothing and no one to distract you. And you’re not used to this weird sense of emptiness and calm. So, you fill it with data on autopilot.
After years of meditation practice, the scenario described doesn’t occur too often. Now and then the trains race, out of control, but I soon rein them in again.
For eons, though, I misunderstood how to solve the problem. I believed the key to cracking worries was to fix them as they popped up, one-by-one. Such a measure wasn’t practical or necessary. The real secret to stopping the flood of concerns when you’re alone with your thoughts is to get comfortable with silence.
Meditation taught me it’s all right not to be busy. It’s okay to relax without a plan. You need not have an itinerary, a to-do list on the go every second of the day.
Before I knew any better, worrying was a vicious circle. One concern led to another and another. If I imagined attending a meeting in an unfamiliar part of town was challenging, I’d run through a potential scenario of setbacks that could yet wouldn’t, occur. I’d see myself struggling to find a parking spot. And, of course, when I found one, it would be the opposite end of the car-park to the ticket machine where you pay to park. Naturally, I wouldn’t have the right change either.
Then, I’d have to find the building and the right room where the meeting was to be held. All these worries would arise before I even considered the content of the meeting and what that might hold. Phew! No wonder I was stressed.
Meditating wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when I was a newbie either. It was something I understood intellectually, but hadn’t experienced, and no one can truly explain what it does for you. You must find out by yourself. At first, just like my ‘after midnight’ episodes of worry, sitting quietly with my eyes shut led to churning thoughts.
The lights were out and distractions minimal, so there was plenty of time to run through the day’s challenges and make up extra too. Still, I persevered and kept returning to following my breath. And slowly, I began to note changes.
The seconds between thoughts elongated. They stretched to accommodate something unfamiliar. For the first time, apart from those moments of sleepiness when I awakened each day before my brain kicked into gear, I experienced nothing.
The silence of the gaps between thoughts was like resting on feathery clouds. Weightless, due to a lack of burdensome imaginings, I reveled in my lighter, worry-free self.
The more I practiced the less worry sessions I met because when it was time to relax, I was on-board. I didn’t fill the space where doing things usually lived since I was comfortable being alone with no need to do anything.
How to get out of the vicious circle
You can get out of the circle of disturbing thoughts. You know the one. It’s when you end up worrying about worrying when you run out of legitimate concerns, and it drives you crazy.
Unless you want to, you need not meditate sat cross-legged. Since it works for me, I recommend it, but don’t fret if it’s not for you. The true key to not worrying is to get comfortable being alone with yourself when there’s nothing important to do.
You’ve spent most of your life keeping busy. You made plans, and when you weren’t thinking of the future you worried about the past — what you did or said you now regretted or how things went wrong.
You didn’t know it, but much of the time your angst stemmed from your need to pack your mind with data so you didn’t have to be by yourself without a to-do list.
I note many people beginning meditation can’t stand the process involved in letting go and meeting their inner quiet selves. It’s so alien to them. They fidget and are full of panic and unease.
The same can happen to you when you choose to merge with silence and let go. Maybe, you’ll take a walk, but this time, you won’t go over a list of chores, think about what you must do later, or consider what to have for dinner. You’ll follow your breath and listen to the breeze. And you’ll discover that gap between thoughts I told you about and try to fill it because it’s uncomfortable.
Then, you’ll remember what I said about how the gap’s like a soft cloud and how amazing it is to feel weightless, without the burden of stress, and you’ll ease into it a little.
Or, you might lie on your bed, or in the garden, and focus on the temperature of your skin, feeling your body on the surface beneath you — hard, soft, or just right — and then focus on nothing.
Practicing will widen the gap until it’s no longer threatening or uncomfortable. Then you’ll benefit from ease, lightness, and relief from anxiety. The next time you lie in bed, turn out the light, and don’t sleep, you’ll explore the silence and let deep peace wash over you, and you’ll get better and better at relaxing until you’re a pro.
Entertaining disquieting thoughts is a vicious circle, but you can outwit worry. The way to be quiet is to stop trying. Leave your mind alone rather than prodding it with expectations about what it should do. Get comfortable with stillness and silence and you’ll stop filling each moment with concerns.