Past, Present, Future Meditation

Past Present Future Meditation

Meditation. Often people think meditation means getting rid of all of the thoughts in your head. While it might feel great to empty the mind completely, it’s nearly impossible, especially when you sit down with the intention to not think about anything. In order to not think about something, whether it’s something particular or specific, your brain must constantly scan for these thoughts, thus a part of your brain is indeed thinking more about what you’re trying not to think about. There’s a term for this: ironic rebound. The theory for why we experience ironic rebound is that one part of the brain monitors for any evidence you are thinking, feeling, or doing what you shouldn’t be. This operates outside of our conscious awareness. Another part of the brain focuses on the self­-control: ­ I will not think, do, or feel this thought, action, or emotion. If the part of your brain that is focusing on the self­-control runs out of energy, the always-working part of brain surfaces the thoughts we are trying to suppress. (There’s a great study about this from Daniel Wegner, and you can find a synopsis of it here along with related studies.)

The suggestion to avoid ironic rebound: “Give up”. Give yourself permission to think about whatever it is you are thinking about.

I don’t mean give up on meditation; just find another way to focus the mind. One of the most successful ways I’ve found to develop this focus is through this Past, Present, Future technique. It allows me to develop a clarity of what is happening in my mind and discover the patterns that happen on a subconscious level.

For every thought that comes into your mind, assign it to a bucket: past, present, future. “I need to send an email…” ­ future. “What is that smell?” ­ present. “I can’t believe the client didn’t like the mock.” ­ past.

At first I thought the purpose of this technique was to obliterate thoughts. I can’t do anything about the past, thus I shouldn’t let my mind stay there. I can’t be worried about the future because I cannot control it. While that is handy to keep in mind, after trying this technique for a while I realized utilizing this past/present/future tool was about learning my patterns more than about dropping my thoughts.

Not only did I start to realize my patterns on the mat, but I would notice them off the mat. I could be cooking dinner and realize I was focused on a past event and thinking about what I would do in the future. Or that I kept replaying an event over and over in my mind. Realization of what I was doing would then drop the train of thought, or at least offer me the opportunity to observe it an ask myself why I was so focused on the thought, uncovering the layers of thoughts and emotions lying beneath the surface.

So give it a try. Download the Past Present Future Meditation, set yourself up in a cozy space, and relax the body so you can focus on what’s happening inside.

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