If you want to see the inner truth of your own being, 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 there were still reeling from the day’s lecture in Philosophy of the Mind.
One student was questioning if the practice of 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.
But there’s more to meditation than that. As another student said in that same class, mediation is “actually about thinking” or “exploring the mind”.
I distinctly remember our professor smirking and sipping his coffee as we sharpened our swords, but dulled our understanding.
Because in truth, meditation is about both. It’s about clearing the mind. But it is also the best way how to explore your mind.
That lecture session happened almost ten years ago. But the argument continues today. I still hear the same debates and misconceptions. After studying the theories of philosophies, I spent even more time applying what I read from various sources.
One thing is for sure when it comes to exploring your mind vs clearing it; meditation is not about either/or. It’s about both. Because if you want to explore your mind, you first have to clear it.
Here is how to clear your mind and how to explore your mind at the same time.
5 Ways 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 it so you can 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.
To do this, simply begin to meditate as you would any other time, but be sure to breathe mindfully. As your body relaxes and your mind becomes calm, begin to 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 the 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; allowing your mind to clear itself.
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, decide on a specific object before you start meditating. Once you begin, use the object almost as a pole to tether your thoughts to. Certain thoughts or sounds may arise but allow your thoughts to circle back to the object you are tethered to.
After a while, you will notice the external distractions are reduced and you can clear your mind. More importantly, it will become easier to understand why those unwanted thoughts seem to “pop up” or “pass by” without our control. This level of focus makes it easier to influence your thoughts, so don’t be afraid to use this technique to explore your mind as well.
3: Explore Your Mind With Vipassana
Now we can get to really exploring the mind.
When we talk about “exploring the mind”, what we are really meaning 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, very gently bring to mind certain the elements 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 associate 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.
Visualizations have powerful effects on our day to day lives. The things we see in our minds influence our thoughts and feelings. And we can use this to our advantage. We can deliberately visualize positive things to create positive thoughts and feelings.
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 out of you or envision a trusted guru and speak with them. The possibilities are endless!
If you’d like to read about the science behind visualization and how it can make us more productive, you can learn more by clicking the previous links.
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 have seemed to have forgotten, though, is that Yoga isn’t just about the physical body. As well as the physical exercises of yoga, there are techniques that allow you to explore the causal relationship between the mind, body, and spirit.
One way to do this is with chakra meditation.
Chakras are centres of energy, found in our spiritual bodies. Each chakra is in a specific location and corresponds with specific aspects of life. When these aspects of life are in order, the corresponding chakra is a clean, bright, vibrant colour. When these aspects of life are out of order, we may see the chakra as dirty, dull, and lacking energy.
By meditating on each chakra, you can identify which parts of your life are currently negative. Then you can meditate on that specific chakra to remedy the problem.
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.