Imagine being in a room with someone right beside you who won’t stop talking. They talk incessantly, from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. Sometimes they argue with you, sometimes they obsess, and sometimes they remind you of all the things you’ve done, should have done and still have to do. Sometimes they make sense, but often they contradict themselves and seem to talk just for the sake of talking. To make it worse, they seem to know you so well that they know all the buttons to press to irritate, annoy and upset you.
Now imagine that person isn’t just beside you. They’re inside your head. And they won’t stop talking.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Your mind can do an incredible job of keeping up a running commentary of constant chatter. And it can drive you crazy. When your mind is so ceaselessly busy, restless and agitated, it can be almost impossible to think clearly, make good decisions and live a peaceful life.
It’s times like these that you most need meditation. But it’s also times like these that meditation can seem like the most challenging thing in the world. Your mind will keep telling you that you’re too busy, that it won’t work and that there’s no point in trying -- it’s not going to be quiet. The temptation is to do the opposite. You try instead to keep busy, distracting yourself in the hope that you drown out the head noise. But, actually, this backfires. The mind keeps shouting louder, becoming more and more agitated in order to be heard over all the busy-ness you’re creating. It makes it impossible for you to be present and enjoy being in the moment. (To help, here are 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
So, what’s the answer? As much as your mind won’t like to hear it, the answer is to meditate. You probably don’t think you have time to meditate, and you may not want to, but this is precisely why it’s exactly what you need.
Listen to Your Inner Voice
The only real way to develop a better relationship with your mind and with that inner voice is to accept it, without judgment. Judgment, criticism and anger will only fuel its mental chatter. What you need to do is to sit with it and allow it to talk its way out without getting entangled in what it’s saying.
Start slowly. When the mind is particularly agitated, just three to five minutes of quiet sitting can make a huge difference. Calmly bring your focus back to your breathing every time you notice yourself getting caught up in the thoughts. It will take daily practice and, over time, you can increase the length of time you sit quietly with your mind. You’ll find that the longer you sit with it, the better you understand it. That understanding is what opens the door to finding peace.
This is a great place to practice self-acceptance and kindness. Don’t punish yourself for being agitated and distracted. With compassion, gently congratulate yourself for noticing and come back to the breath. Ten, 20, 50, 100 times -- it doesn’t matter. Just notice it, accept it and return to the breath.
It is this practice and this attitude of equanimity that will help you to reconnect with your inner stillness. It’s still there. You are not your mental noise, you are the observer of it. Meditation while your mind is at its most crazy is actually a great time to work with this awareness.
(For more insight on this, read Listening to Your Inner Voice.)
Spend Time With Your Mind
What you are ultimately looking to do is to build a better relationship with your mind, with that inner voice. How do you build that relationship? By spending time with it. By cultivating the kind of relationship where you are aware of your thoughts and the mental chatter, but you can also make the choice not to be controlled by them. In essence, you can begin to choose the thoughts that do work for you, and that do serve your highest purpose, while quietly acknowledging those that don’t. Gradually, that inner voice will learn that you are not fighting it and that it doesn’t need to shout constantly to be heard. It will become calmer, more reasoned and less panicky, making it much easier for you to ease back into inner quiet.
This is not an easy task. It can be incredibly difficult to sit with your mind while it is driving you crazy, as it would be to sit with any irritating person. The key is to try not to get angry or frustrated with it. Yes, your mind will fiercely resist stillness, but allow it to do that. Sit through it without fighting it. Most importantly, don’t quit. No one said meditation would be easy, but it will be worth it.
Over time, you will find that the practice of meditation will cleanse your mind. You’ll get to a place where the craziness is still there, but your relationship to it has shifted and you’re less affected by it. And with more time and practice, your distance will help to calm the voice and lessen the craziness altogether, bringing much needed peace and stillness.
(Read on in Turning the Mind 'Off' for Meditation.)