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A Simple Technique to Quiet Your Mind and Be Present

Meditative Technique

“Get out of your head and get into your heart. Think less, feel more.” ~Osho

Meditating. It’s one of those things that we all know we’d be better off doing, but most of us struggle with it immensely.

It’s difficult. It’s hard to find the time. And it often doesn’t seem like it’s working.

For many years, I’ve tried to make meditation a regular habit. But rarely can I do it consistently. It’s almost always the first thing to go when I’m crunched for time or feeling stressed.

Of course, those are the times that meditation is best!

But, for someone like me who has difficulty paying attention in general, the standard “beginner’s meditation” is often insufficient. It’s quite challenging to do nothing but focus on your breath for five minutes, let alone twenty or more.

This has only gotten more challenging since moving from a university setting to a full-time job. Now my mind is often so crammed with technical details of troubleshooting health information systems that the idea of shutting off my mind for even a few minutes feels nearly impossible.

I know I’m not alone here. Many people struggle with this, and it is a nontrivial problem. I’m not an insomniac, but on numerous occasions I’ve been completely unable to go to sleep because I simply cannot shut my mind off long enough to pass out.

Sometimes I’m concerned with what someone said to me at work that day. Sometimes it’s missing my family and friends. Sometimes I beat myself up for not going to the gym that day. And sometimes it’s just a whole mess of thoughts that I can’t quite pin down.

As such, I’ve been in the market for a meditative technique that can be done any time, anywhere, for as long or short as I’d like, and without requiring the ability for sustained attention. I believe I’ve just found this technique.

Before going into it, I would like to acknowledge the fact that having the ability to sustain your attention for extended periods is invaluable, and absolutely worth working toward. The technique I will be discussing should be used to help build this capability, not to replace it entirely.

The Technique Sensory Awareness

Rather than directing your attention inward, say, toward your breath, what about directing it outward toward the world around you?

This is an approach that I first came across right here on Tiny Buddha, when Lori described “the noticing game.”

The idea is that you can expand your awareness by paying attention to the things around you, and trying to notice as much of your environment as possible. A great, common example of this would be “people watching.”

The noticing game has helped me tremendously as a meditative technique, but it does have its limitations.

For instance, I’ve found that it tends to cause a feeling of separateness—that I am in some sense isolated from whatever it is that I am observing. In addition, I have a tendency to search around more frenetically than I should, trying to notice the “coolest” thing in my environment.

Surely, this is not the intention behind the exercise, but I do feel as though it is a consequence of the simplification that comes from looking at it as a game. While the noticing game has benefited me greatly, I’ve recently been taking it to the next level with a slight modification of that approach.

A couple weeks ago, I came across a great method of expanding my awareness in a fascinating book about Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. You can think of it as a more generalized or holistic version of the noticing game.

The goal is to maximize the use of your sensory perception.

When we are not conscious of it, we filter out a huge quantity of sensory data that is not useful for whatever task we are trying to accomplish. This is a great evolutionary strategy, and it also gives us the opportunity to expand our awareness whenever we feel like it. Double win!

First, let your vision expand peripherally. No need to turn your head, look around, or change your body position at all. You can see (at least in my experience) about 50 percent more of your environment simply by being conscious of it. Try it out now!

Expanding your visual awareness like this makes you feel more alert and “in the moment.” In other words, it does much of what traditional meditation does, but without needing to focus on anything in particular.

But why stop at just visual perception? You can pay more attention to the sounds in your environment as well.

You need not focus on a particular sound; simply let the noises in your environment get consciously registered in your mind. Huge amounts of ambient noise gets filtered out, but you can easily remove that filter for short periods of time, thereby noticing much more of your environment.

Next, notice your body. Right now, I’m quite aware of an uncomfortable twinge in the center of my back. But until I started paying attention a moment ago, I couldn’t actually “feel” my butt in my seat, or the bottoms of my feet on the ground.

These feelings simply got filtered out, because they are bland and uninteresting from an evolutionary standpoint. But they’re actually quite interesting as I pay attention to them.

There’s really nothing new or revolutionary about this technique. In fact, one of its major advantages is the simplicity of the whole thing; there’s no need for any complicated maneuvers.

We all have much more awareness potential than we actually use in our daily lives. Instead of actively trying to notice specific things in your environment, you can let the environment come to you and soak it all up together.

Most of us, most of the time, are experiencing life on autopilot. But without a huge amount of effort, we can begin to spend more and more time in a state of calm awareness, where the trials and tribulations of the day become unimportant.

Our anxieties and concerns take on a fraction of the significance we normally attribute to them. And who wouldn’t want that?

Man relaxing image via Shutterstock

About Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson has written for over a year about finding happiness and health. The keys to his heart are dark chocolate and an encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons quotes. Get his free 8 day e-course on how to create a healthy lifestyle that makes you happy and follow him on Twitter.

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  • Hi Michael
    I really enjoyed reading this article and I think you gave a really great technique that can be super-helpful for getting us into the moment. I meditate regularly but it took me a while to get to that point. I liked what you said about the urge to skip it is when we actually need it most!

    Because of the amazing results I have seen with the practice, I definitely encourage people to keep trying if they are struggling. But, with that being said, there is no one thing that everyone MUST do to improve themselves. So, if it is something that truly doesn’t resonate with people, they should experiment with other techniques.

    I am definitely going to try this…any ‘strategies’ that can help get me in the present moment are always of interest to me. Thanks!

  • lv2terp

    Very cool perspective! As I was reading your examples walking through the practice, I noticed so much more than normal, and each thing that I became aware of, I HAD been filtering out…very cool! I look forward to adding this new practice of awareness! Thank you for sharing your experience! 🙂

  • Michael Davidson

    Hey Kelli,

    I’m glad you’ve managed to get serious results from your meditation practice. Personally, I have great results for a few weeks, then fall out of practice, start up again, stop, and so on. It’s hard for me to be consistent with it, so I prefer doing things like this whenever it pops into my head that I can.

    Let me know how it works for you!

  • Michael Davidson

    Right? It’s pretty incredible. Good luck with it!

  • Sudeep Sharma

    Awareness to the sense perceptions is indeed an opening into the present moment. Thank you Michael For sharing.

  • John Accolade

    See what happens when you do these exercises on the tube, or walking from one office to another, etc…

  • I really like and appreciate what you have shared as I think you hit on an important topic. I do believe that meditation and what meditation brings to our lives is important, and the point of meditating is to teach us how to be more present and mindful in our daily lives. So making your meditative practice include the things you encounter in your everyday life is such a great way to help you actually become present in your life.

    I just spent the weekend being a tourist in Amsterdam and I don’t think they is ever such a great reminder about living in the present as traveling in a new place, whether near or far. You find yourself walking through the streets or sitting at lunch soaking in every little detail so you can better understand the culture and life of this foreign place. You remember to be living in the present moment. I find it to be a really good reminder and to ask myself, why do I struggle so much more to be present and appreciate these little details in my daily life?

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  • Gardener1

    Hi. A really interesting technique and I am always looking to new ways to quieten the mind. However I wonder if you flip this what the approach would be? You see, I have ADHD and what most people don’t understand is that it isn’t a problem with attention but the inability to filter out information around us. You talk of filtering and our evolutionary abilities to do so and the conscious and unconsciousness of awareness. I really like the visual awareness technique to be in the moment but would love to see an article or contribute to such an article where the opposite is looked at, not to become more aware in general but the specificity of awareness and how.I absorb all information around me unable to filter out unnecessary details with difficulty in choosing what is relevant and when for a particular task. I have tried mindfulness but as society becomes more dense with data and stimuli our abilities to stay calm are pushed to the limits and it not only those with a diagnosis but everyone that suffers and is struggling to cope with societal changes.

  • David

    VOkay here we go time to rant.

    So I’m caught up in my own mind. With this comes the
    question what is the mind? The mind is said to be a kind of separate entity
    from ourselves however it changes I mean is it a separate part of ourselves or
    ourselves? Thinking it IS ourselves is apparent identification with the mind or
    “Ego.”

    This is apparently not what we want because it takes away
    from us being our true selves who cannot be thought but rather experienced
    through “being” which is in effect being in a sort of synergy with the universe
    and all there ever is and was etc because all there can ever be is the present
    moment. Also the mind cannot comprehend the present moment and as such tries to
    do numerous things to pull you out of the present moment and keep you in the
    past or future. Although my thoughts don’t revolve around the past or the
    future they revolve around thinking this. Constantly, all the time and without
    pause. Also when I try to realise the importance of the present moment I get
    incredibly anxious and find it really hard to stop.

    Buddah taught that you need to be yourself truly, But then
    how can you truly be yourself if you live without meaning to be in the
    perspectives of others? Someone says “hey what you need is your own perspective
    on life” but then how can you live with your own perspective on life if your
    perspective on life came from someone elses perspective/ideals?

    I agree that the most important thing is being yourself and
    accepting who you are and tat is all I ever try to do believe me. But how can
    you live life properly when you have a BILLION different perspectives on how to
    live properly day to day?

    1)
    Have your own strong reality and inner locus of
    control.

    2)
    Be mindful always and realise when you are in
    your mind.

    3)
    Observe your thoughts and don’t judge them.

    4)
    The mind is like a garden and you need to pull
    out the weeds(directly conflicts with the above thought)

    5)
    Be your own hero you are your own hero
    travelling through life and all the obstacles you come across you will battle
    through etc..

    6)
    Suffering comes from to much thinking.

    Its like I want to accept all these things and not let my
    mind have me in its talons all the time but If I try to come out I feel the
    need to try and analyse and figure out how all these things go together and
    mean. I feel like Im not normal because NO ONE thinks like this to the same
    degree I do.

    Even when I look up overthinking-people who overthink are usually
    overthinking about work related issues and dilemmas in real life. MY overthinking is around this around who I am
    and what approach do I take? Is any one of these correct? Are none of them
    correct? Do I disregard all of them altogether?

    What should I do.. I honestly just don’t know.

  • Great post Michael – been doing this for years and it’s very useful – thanks for sharing