Calming your thoughts: Watching the thought river flow by

It is all too easy to put too much effort into meditating, to find yourself straining to stay focused. Let me show you one way to let go of that effort.

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If you work too hard at focusing our attention during meditation, you can create tension in your body and mind, and that tension makes it harder to focus. Worse yet, the tension can lead you to want to chastise or punish yourself when you discover that your attention has wandered. That’s counterproductive.

If you admonish yourself, you create yet more tension and you may even become frustrated enough to quit. An adversarial situation arises where you’re fighting against your own mind.

There’s a better way.

Instead of working hard to keep attention in place, relax into the meditation.

Let go of all the effort. Just sit. Just be. Just notice what is happening.

No matter how many times you notice your mind wandering, each time return to the breath. Without admonition. Without effort. Without feeling upset. Just return and start again.

Here’s some nice imagery that I enjoy that may help you to relax into your meditation and let go of effort.

Imagine that you are sitting on the banks of a river. It’s a lovely day and you’re sitting comfortably under the shade of beautiful tree. You’re just sitting, enjoying your breath, watching the river flow by.

The river is a river of thoughts. You can see the thoughts coming and then going, but you never have to follow them into the river. You can just sit on the bank and watch them go by.

Once in awhile, you might be tempted by a thought. You might slip into the river and follow it downstream. Sooner or later, you’ll notice that you’re in the water. When you do, your breath can be your life preserver. You can hold onto your breath and it will pull you back out of the water so you can return to the bank.

Would you like to try sitting by the river?

The following is a 12-minute guided meditation using the river of thought.

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