We all like to have space to move about. If you walked into a busy room filled with noisy people, you’d instinctively look for the quietest spot you could find. Then, even if you were at a party or a bar, you would be happy to get some peace and quiet when it’s time to leave.

Why is this? In crowded places where many things are happening and people are talking, we are bombarded with a barrage of sensory signals that overtake our minds. That’s why we want to leave so we can regain some mental space to feel calm again.

Having an opinion about everything creates mental disturbance

The outer world is not the only source of mental disturbances. We create disturbances from within by adding our personal opinions, judgements, expectations and desires to what we experience.

For example, Kathy is in a department store looking to buy a get-well card for a friend who is sick. As she walks towards the stationery department, she passes the toy department where she sees a young child of about four or five, having a temper tantrum. The mother is handling the child’s outburst by trying to ignore him and pretending to continue to shop.

Disturbed by what she seeing, a stream of thoughts flow through Kathy’s mind – Ugh! what a terrible noise! Why can’t she do something about it? Look at her, she’s pretending there’s nothing wrong. Oh look, he’s tugging at her jacket but she’s not even looking at him. What a terrible mother she is!

Kathy could have walked by that scene without stopping to judge the mother and her son. But, by projecting her own opinions about the situation, she has disturbed and filled her mind with unnecessary thoughts.

Like Kathy, we clutter our minds with our own opinions about what we experience. It creates restlessness and agitation that take away our inner peace. Over time, the mind becomes habitually crowded and as it does, the stress levels within also rise. Trying to meditate with an already full and stressed mind is like trying to meditate in a noisy crowd. As you can imagine, it’s neither easy nor recommended.

We have to create mental space for meditation.

Stop the inner running commentary

If you would like to meditate, it is important to nurture a peaceful mind. One of the ways to do this is to stop the running mental commentary on what you are experiencing.

This incessant mental chattering makes for a crowded mind. Then, when you actually sit down to quiet yourself for meditation, you may feel overpowered by the huge waves of thoughts that come spilling out. Calming the mind may seem impossible and you will very likely give up.

You could try putting on soothing music, relaxing in a bath, or doing some quiet reading to calm the mind. These will probably work.  The problem though, is that for people who have very busy, noisy minds, they know only two things – awake and active or sleeping and inactive. So, when they calm the mind, they quickly fall asleep. And that’s no good for meditation.

The mind must be quiet, yet alert to actively meditate.

Do not form opinions about what you perceive

The simplest antidote to stopping the inner running commentary is to make it a habit not to form opinions about what you perceive.

Try not to compare what you see with what you think should be happening. Comparing divides your world into what you see and what you think it should be. It crowds your mind with unnecessary thoughts and disturbs it.

As the thoughts pile up, you get more and more restless. This doesn’t feel comfortable and you are compelled to express what’s in your mind to create space again. Since you were harboring personal opinions and judgements, letting them out can be annoying or irritating to others. Not surprisingly, throwing out your mental garbage onto others will not make you very popular or happy.

Practice throughout the day

Although meditation is a practice that takes a short time out of your day, to get the most out of it requires that  you to become aware of what is going on within your own mind throughout the day.

Daily, try your best to keep the mind as calm as you can by not allowing it to generate unnecessary thoughts about what you are experiencing or over-reacting to disturbing situations. Be gracious. Accept what you cannot change, forgive and move on.

Then, when you sit for meditation, you will have created the mental space and calm to glide into a peaceful state effortlessly.

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Manisha Melwani

Manisha Melwani is a teacher and the author of, "So You're a Spiritual Being–Now What?" She offers spiritual and wellness solutions for life and stress management. She teaches classes in personal growth, stress management and meditation. She is based in Richmond Hill and Markham, Ontario. Contact her for more information or to have her speak to your group or organization. She also offers private counselling sessions in person or on-line.
Manisha Melwani

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