Choosing What to Think: No Bullshit Meditation

Do you choose the contents of your awareness? If you pay attention, you’ll quickly realize you don’t. So who or what does then? If you are not in control of what’s in your head, are you in control of anything?

Let’s assume there is a you that can make a choice of what to think (hint: there isn’t really). If you make a conscious effort, you should be able to focus your attention onto a single thing. However, most of the time you are not, and so the contents of your awareness is determined by your environment or your mind will run seemingly random chains of thought.

That’s often referred to as the monkey mind. The question is, do you want to be controlled by this monkey or would you rather gain at least some level of control over it?

I’ve found two good ways to go about this.

  1. Focus your attention on something. A static object or unchanging sound. The point is: have nothing else in your awareness. As soon as thoughts arise, notice them, let them go and refocus your attention.
  2. Focus your attention on nothing. Empty your mind. All kinds of thoughts will arise. Notice them and let them go. Refocus on emptiness.

The difficulty with both methods is not being able to let go of arising thoughts. I may get lost in thought for several minutes before catching myself despite my best efforts. The trick that made it a lot easier for me was clicking. Just make any quick, short movement, preferably one that generates a sharp sound, like a click or knock on a hard surface. This will snap you right out of the arising distraction and allow you to refocus. You might be clicking every 5-10 seconds but the frequency goes down as you practice more. This is also called meditation, which is the best you can do to consciously train your mind to choose the contents of your awareness and to control the monkey in your head.

There are many other activities which require your full attention and therefore put you in a meditative state. This is often referred to as flow. However, when the activity and flow state stops, the monkey mind comes right back. And to control it even when you are not in a state of flow, you really need to set time aside for training it with meditation.

So the thing to remember: click as soon as you notice the distraction and regain focus.