A trick to reduce distraction in meditation

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to achieve. All you have to do is sit back and let the mind return to its natural state.” 

In the guided meditation app Headspace, you’re constantly reminded that your mind is like a blue sky. Although clouds of thoughts may swirl and thunder, making your day seem gray and dreary, there’s always a clear blue sky above. That calm and stillness isn’t something you have to achieve; it’s always there, if only you sit back and allow the clouds to dissipate. 

For me, the problem is when I don’t want to chase the clouds away. Sometimes I’m meditating and I remember this thing that I absolutely have to do – make a phone call, or set a reminder. I worry that if I let that particular cloud float away, it will never come back, and I’ll miss the appointment or forget the to-do. That thought keeps swirling around in my head, but I don’t want to interrupt the meditation to write it down. 

The trick I developed is inspired by the “memory palace,” a technique used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to remember things. To construct a memory palace, you start with a place you know well (like the rooms in your home), and then associate the things you want to remember with a particular location. This engages the spatial learning part of your brain and allows you to recall the memories simply by mentally “walking” through the familiar place.

When there’s something I need to remember during a meditation, I turn it into an image, stick it on a tiny cloud, and place it in the far corner of my blue sky (which I visualize when meditating). This trick only works if you visualize something when you meditate – do you envision the lapping waves of the ocean? Put your little memory-images on a buoy far out in the water. Or a tranquil forest? Carve your images into a distant tree.

I’m not sure Andy from Headspace would approve – he might say that the thoughts will come back later if they’re truly important. But it works for me. How about you – how do you deal with distractions in meditation that you don’t want to forget?

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