If you want to see your true self, you need to know how to explore your mind.
The best way to explore your mind is with meditation. And at first, that might sound a little backwards.
Years ago, when I was a wide-eyed philosophy student, there was a conversation after class about meditation. Many of the students were still reeling from the day’s lecture in Philosophy of the Mind. One student was questioning if meditation had any value to him. He claimed that meditation was merely “clearing the mind,” or “thinking about nothing”. And this can be true. You certainly can use meditation to clear and quieten your mind.
However, meditation is also about learning how to explore your mind, as another student said. And indeed, one of the best ways how to explore your mind is with meditation. Let me show you how.
How To Explore Your Mind With Meditation
1: Open Monitoring
The best way to start to explore your mind is with open-monitoring meditation. This will calm your mind and clear your mind. Then, you will start to see within (for more on this, read my guide to open-awareness, focused attention and effortless presence).
One misconception about clearing the mind is that it requires you to avoid your thoughts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you try to avoid thinking you will probably actually start to think even more. Instead, you should try to focus on the present moment; through open-monitoring meditation. And meanwhile, you should be non-judgmentally aware of your thoughts.
To do this, simply begin to meditate as usual. I recommend doing mindful breathing. Then, as you feel your body relax, and as your mind becomes calm, observe your thoughts and the external stimuli around you. Whether you’re distracted by a sound, smell, the wind blowing against you, or anything else, notice that distraction without analysis or judgement.
After a while, you’ll notice that external stimuli is less distracting because you’ve become more accepting of it. The goal is to reach a point where you can accept the present moment for what it is, When this happens, your mind will clear and you will gain insight into your mind.
2: Focus Your Attention
Now that the mind is clear we can begin to focus. We do this with focused attention meditation, the best form of which is Samatha meditation technique.
This is where you focus all your attention on one object; be it your breath, a mantra, part of your body, etc.
To do this, meditate on any relaxing object. Aim to make your mind one with the object. Certain thoughts or distractions may arise but allow your thoughts to circle back to the object you are focusing on.
After a while, you will notice that external distractions are reduced. And you will start to see your thoughts as a temporary phenomenon that comes and goes without you needing to tend to them.
3: Explore Your Mind With Vipassana
Now we can get to really exploring the mind.
When we talk about “exploring the mind”, what we really mean is to examine the different psychological phenomena like thoughts and feelings, and to investigate the way we think and feel about certain things.
To do this, we practise Vipassana meditation but with a twist.
When we normally do Vipassana we simply focus on the breath and then label the thoughts and feelings that arise. This is a good elementary way of exploring the mind. It reveals how thoughts and feelings rise and fall. You get to learn about the nature of mental phenomena—which is entirely why Buddha taught this technique in the first place.
You can take this further.
While you are practising Vipassana, gently bring to mind certain any aspect of your life you would like to explore.
For instance, let’s say you want to explore mental phenomena related to your career To do this, continue meditating on the breath and labelling thoughts and feelings as you usually would. Now very gently bring to mind a mental image of work. You should do this gently enough that you maintain focus without getting distracted. Once you bring up this thought, observe associations that occur in your mind.
When you think about your career (or whatever subject you’re thinking of), what other associations come up? Observing these things will show you the network of thoughts in your mind, and how your mind associates one thought with others.
You’ll also notice the types of feelings that your mind associates with work.
Whatever topic you bring to mind, observe how your mind reacts. There will be a network of psychological associations that reveal to you how the pieces of your life come together in your mind. You can then change these associations if you like, which will have a profound effect on the way you perceive whatever subject you are thinking about.
4: Explore your mind with visualizations
Visualizations are simply mental images. You can use visualization as a tool to achieve your goals, become more spiritual or creative, and even learn faster! To do this, you’ll simply need to reach a meditative state via the methods we look at above and begin to envision yourself attaining your goal.
If you are a career-driven person, you may want to visualize yourself working at your dream job, meeting influential figures, or signing that big contract. Maybe you’re an athlete: visualize yourself playing well against your opponents, making plays, and winning the match. If you’re seeking answers spiritually, you could visualize a scenario that may bring answers. Or you can envision a trusted guru and speak with them. The possibilities are endless!
If any of this seems silly or ineffective to you, please understand, you’re not alone. I once believed that visualization was pointless as well. But studies from the National Library of Medicine and other sources have proven the effects of visualizations.
Here’s a great article if you’d like to read about the science.
Chakra meditation is one of the top 10 meditations used in yoga.
Yoga has been practised for thousands of years by many cultures.
One thing that people seem to have forgotten, though, is that Yoga isn’t just about the body. It’s also about the mind and spirit. For example, consider the yogic meditation Chakra Dhyana.
Chakras are centres of energy in our spiritual bodies. Meditating on these chakras allows you to analyze your spiritual health, better yourself morally, and explore your mind.
Explore your mind through your chakras
Each chakra is in a specific location and corresponds with specific aspects of life. When we suffer either illness, ignorance, or other problems, it closes the chakras.
By meditating on each chakra, you can identify which parts of your life you need to work on.
And that is how to explore your mind with meditation. While you’re at it, you might like to challenge your own mind by asking yourself some hard-hitting self reflection questions.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison