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Mindfulness meditation: How to let go of thoughts & clear your mind

What is it that makes it so hard to “clear your mind” or “let go of your thoughts”?

It’s not that “clearing your mind” is so incredibly difficult. A big part of the problem is that you may not know how, and a phrase such as “let go of your thoughts” doesn’t really tell you how to do it. Certainly not with the same clarity as an instruction such as “Raise your hand”.

This is the kind of things we do not have a very precise language for. So, instead of trying very hard to find words that literally describe the process, it helps to find metaphors that speak to your imagination.

By the way, this means that a given metaphor might be incredibly clear and effective for one person… and totally meaningless for another. This goes for the one I am going to share here - - It may work for you, or it may not. If it doesn’t speak to you, I hope this stimulates your curiosity to investigate other such metaphors.

The metaphor I will be using here was inspired by something a client shared with me, something that a former yoga teacher of his would say at the end of a yoga class. I then elaborated on it.

So here it goes. Imagine you’re trying to clear your mind.

You want to let go of thoughts, but don’t really know how to. So you struggle with the thoughts that keep coming to your mind. Which is normal, by the way. This is the way our minds work. We keep having thoughts.

But, as you want to “let go of your thoughts”, you don’t know what to do with these thoughts that keep coming. You try to ignore them, to do as if you’re not noticing them. And it doesn’t work.

So, instead of ignoring them, acknowledge them. Look at them squarely in the eye, so to speak.

It’s like you’re outside, and it is snowing. You’re seeing the snow fall down, you’re not ignoring it, but, as soon as it hits the ground, you sweep it away. Of course, it keeps falling, But you keep brushing it away, so the ground around you stays clear.

This "sweeping" is not about fighting the dust, the snow, the thoughts. Far from ignoring them, it is a way of acknowledging them. The sweeping movement simply accompanies the dust, the snow, the thoughts as they pass on their own, now that they've been seen.

Or imagine you are in a large room, with a beautiful wooden floor, and dust is falling. You’re not ignoring it, but you keep sweeping it aside with your broom, so the floor is staying clear of dust.

It keeps falling, and you keep sweeping. You are not absorbed in any specific fleck of dust, or snowflake, or thought. In fact, as you keep noticing each of them, and gently sweeping it away, you fall into a rhythm. Something like a dance. And, instead of your attention being on the specifics of each one, you get drawn into an awareness of the rhythm of that dance, and how it feels inside.

The dust is still coming down, the snow is still falling, the thoughts are still coming, but your attention is no longer focused on them. Now, it is more drawn to the smooth feeling of the dance you are in with them, the rhythm you are feeling from inside as you keep sweeping.

Another metaphor for this shift has to do with driving at night. You know how your eyes get attracted to the bright lights of the cars coming from the other direction. It's an effort to not look at them. The way you do it is to shift your focus on something else: You need to keep looking at the right side of the road, instead of the left side where the cars' lights are.

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