How to Create Space in Your Head

Background

It can be hard sometimes to think straight when your mind is seemingly having a conversation with itself.  It’s very easy to get drawn into the ‘conversation’ as if it is about real things, when it is invariably about something that has happened in the past or something that may happen in the future.

If you can observe the ‘conversation’ or chattering monkey as it is sometimes referred to, then obviously you are not the chattering monkey but rather the observer.  This means that there is a way to control the chattering monkey and gain enough space in the present moment to think calmly.

The more ‘space’ you can create in the present moment, the more time you will have at your disposal to be more calm.

Technique

Nothing really fancy here, we’ll leave that up to the oh so sophisticated chattering monkeys :)

Sit on a chair with an upright back and try to keep your spine as straight as possible.  If it hurts or aches then just rest it on the chair back.  The idea is not to fall asleep but to remain focused on the task.

Breathe in and out normally through your stomach, not your chest, using your nose, not mouth.

Close your eyes gently.

Observe your breath going in through your nose, filling your diaphragm, and then going out again.

Keeping doing this, ie. observing your breath.

How to deal with your attention wandering

Your attention will invariably begin to wander off concentrating on something as simplistic as observing your breathing.

When this happens, the best thing to do is not to fight and wrestle with your attention but just to observe that thought for a while, and then bring your attention back to your breath.

One way I do this is to picture my mind as the blue sky and various thoughts that cross my mind as clouds.  Then whenever a thought crosses my mind and I notice that my attention has drifted from my focus on my breathing, I just gently blow that metaphoric cloud away and return my attention back to my breathing.

How to deal with the boredom of just focusing on your breath

Your chattering monkey will get bored easily and try to draw your attention off the present and into thinking about the future or the past.

You can focus on other ‘present moment’ things as well that will have the same effect as watching your breathing.  So you can also focus on any sounds that you hear, being careful not to interpret them but just hear the different noises as ‘noise’ only.  Try and keep focused on the noise and use the cloud technique above to whoosh off any passing by thoughts.  You can also pay attention to the lights that you see on the back of your closed eyelids.

Try and keep attention to one of these present moment things as long as you can; only switching to a different attention focus when you need to.

How Long Should You Do It For?

Try it for a few minutes at a time to start and then work your way up to about 10 to 15 minutes a day.  This method of controlling your mind works by frequent application rather than one-off massive efforts.

I usually use a timer countdown alarm on my iPhone that will alert me when my time is up.   That way I can keep my eyes closed and not worry about how long I’ve been doing the exercise for.

Body relaxation

Your mind tends to follow the relaxation state of your body and vice versa, so when you sit down to do this exercise you can mentally relax certain muscle groups as you breathe in and out.

You do this by just moving your attention over certain muscle groups and ‘feeling’ some sort of loosening or relaxing sensation in each part.

I start with my both my feet, move my attention up through shins and calves. Then knees and so on upwards.  I particularly focus on my head and feel my attention relaxing my forehead, cheeks, jaw, back of my neck and shoulders.

You don’t have to push to relax your muscles, just imagine that they are relaxing a little more than they were before you brushed them with your awareness.

Once you feel a little more relaxed then focus on your breath as you breathe normally.

Summary

  • Sit down on a chair
  • Close your eyes
  • Relax your body physically
  • Focus on breathing, outside noises and/or lights on back of eyelids
  • Observe thoughts and direct attention back to breathing/noises or lights.
  • Work up from a couple of minutes to 10-15 minutes per day

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