Quieting the mind is something that many of us struggle with. We have active minds, thinking all day long. This can lead to anxiety, worry, and stress. Learning to quiet the mind can help us be at ease in our practice and during our days. It takes time, continual cultivation, and dedication, but we do have the opportunity to rest with a mind at ease and less active.
One of the best ways we can cultivate a quiet mind is with the practice of samatha.One Mind Dharma offers a beautiful outline of the Buddhist practice of samatha in their post Samatha Meditation – Calming the Mind. In essence, samatha is a meditation practice that leads to a calm mind. The word itself may be understood to mean the calming of the mind. Sometimes referred to as tranquility, samatha helps us to put the mind at ease.
This is most often done through concentration practices, such as looking at the breath. We train the mind to focus completely on an object. As the mind becomes concentrated, we become less distracted by thoughts and other experience. This creates a sense of ease and comfort in the mind, and we can cultivate this quality of tranquility. As we continue to practice, we give ourselves the ability to return to this state of ease more frequently.
Here is a guided samatha practice you can try, working with the breath to build concentration.
In yoga practice, we have the opportunity to practice mindfulness of the body. We can use the body as the object of our awareness and concentration, and build the ability to be with the body without distraction or worry. Yoga offers us an opportunity to arrive where we are, with the body and with the breath, without distraction.
When we practice, we can make an effort to be present where we are. There are many yoga poses that promote calmness and peace, and yoga practice in general can help us to quiet the mind. As we practice with the breath and the body, we have the ability to let go of the thinking mind and the chaos that our minds often bring. We don’t have to ignore or push away the thinking mind; we just let the thoughts come and go without hooking into them. We simply return over and over to the body and the experience of our practice.
In daily life, the mind grows active and excited as we go through our days. It’s natural that the mind continues to grow in activity if we don’t make effort to calm it. There are many different ways we can bring some calmness and quietness to the mind in our daily lives with just a few moments of practice.
One of the best ways to go is to work with the breath. There are specific breathing exercises to calm the mind and body, such as making your exhales longer than your inhales. This engages the parasympathetic nervous system and actually slows the heart rate. This results in a calmness both mentally and physically.
You can also return to the body and points of contact. This is a common method taught in trauma therapy, and is useful for anyone. Feel your but in the chair or couch, or your feet on the floor. You don’t need to make anything special happen. Just tune into the actual physical experience you are having and what it feels like.
Finally, you can try the practice of labeling your thoughts. This is a common meditation practice, and can help us to observe the thoughts without buying into each one. Try just noting if the thought is about something past, present or future. Or maybe you can note if the thought is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. As we begin to see the thoughts come and go like this, we can label them and not buy into them!