Stilling the mind and the secret power of mental traps

Collage by Stephanie Wild

Collage by Stephanie Wild

Meditation can yield spectacular insights about ourselves and the nature of the universe. It also often brings awareness of the patterns we repeat in our minds. Time and time again, we find ourselves alighting on thoughts that look suspiciously like loops. These are the backing tapes of the conscious mind and they often go something like this:

anatomy of a mental trap

These traps often focus on current situations in our lives, work worries, romance worries, issues of powerlessness and frustration. These are the ‘problems’ that are the easiest to fixate on, but more often than not the fixation results only in stress, in an escalation of tension, in the metaphoric banging of heads against brick walls, and not in anything remotely resembling solutions. As Einstein said:

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.

The worry often seems to emerge out of nowhere, or from the stillness of meditation itself. The bored mind, in uncharted waters stalks its next dopamine fix: “This is a problem… I should do something.” This rarely ends well. In fact, this kind of bored mind is not particularly good at coming up with solutions. Solutions often come from somewhere else entirely, some deep unknowable unconscious room… [or other more appropriate esoteric metaphor].

Anyway, with meditation, the idea is to go on dropping out of these traps, right? So they emerge and we recognise them and then go back to whatever practice we were attempting. We go back to focusing on our breathing or whatever. But sometimes there is actually a great opportunity here to deepen awareness, to deepen practice and to go meta on this stuff. Sometimes it happens accidentally. The conscious/beta mind is being dropped, the repetitive patterns of tension/traps are recognised and then we catch a glimpse of a bigger picture, of a bigger pattern.

The normal conscious beta mind can’t really do this, you need an altered state. But when you do get a glimpse here it is a beautiful and rare moment of clarity, of seeing the forest for the trees, of realising that most of the time we are just looking at a couple of pixels out of a massive screen and interpreting the world from a ridiculously narrow perspective. It’s interesting that it is the traps themselves that often provide a gateway for this kind of experience. The tension they create – the tension of contradiction – provides a platform for noticing… and a potentially transformative space.


Walking Meditation: Dissolving Tensions

Some people find that sitting for meditation is difficult. It may be that you have a scattered busy mind, or back-pain. Some people would advise you to push through it, but perhaps, sitting just isn’t for you, perhaps walking meditation would work better. I have a lot of experience at this kind of meditation; I do it every day. The difference between regular walking and meditative walking is that with the latter you drop your thoughts and let your mind go flat, you focus on awareness.

If you have found your truth within yourself there is nothing more in this whole existence to find. Truth is functioning through you. When you open your eyes, it is truth opening his eyes. When you close your eyes, it is truth who is closing its eyes. This is a tremendous meditation. If you can simply understand the device, you don’t have to do anything; whatever you are doing is being done by truth. You are walking, it is truth; you are sleeping, it is truth resting; you are speaking, it is truth speaking; you are silent, it is truth that is silent. – Osho

Walk where you feel the safest, the calmest. My preference is the clearest possible horizon lines, for water. Walk where there are the fewest distractions for you. If it helps, wear headphones, play ambient music. If not, listen to the music of the universe in that moment.

Tune into your body

Feel it out

Focus – awareness – on any tensions

Where are they?
What shape are they?

See what comes up.

Just observe.

Do they connect to parts of your body? Parts of your life? your chakras/transits/career/home…
family/public recognition, to shame/embarassment, to childhood pain?

When you find tension – hold it.
Do not push or pull.
Allow it to be.

Deepen your awareness

Walk with this tension

Let it be

And through the movement and regular breathing cultivate stillness of mind
Stillness is deeply transformative

Some people find archetypes emerging from this kind of observation. Some people find psychic splinters that can be removed or emotional wounds that can be cleansed and untangled and allowed to heal. Whatever you find, let it be gentle. Be gentle with yourself.

One thing: you have to walk, and create the way by your walking; you will not find a ready-made path. It is not so cheap, to reach to the ultimate realization of truth. You will have to create the path by walking yourself; the path is not ready-made, lying there and waiting for you. It is just like the sky: the birds fly, but they don’t leave any footprints. You cannot follow them; there are no footprints left behind. ― Osho

The dark moon: regeneration and cradling the self

Collage by Stephanie Wild

Collage by Stephanie Wild

In a world where we are constantly encouraged to shine, to compete, to perform, to do more, there is not much emphasis put on the other side of the cycle: on rest and renewal. When we find ourselves producing less, doing less, we tend to ask “what’s wrong?”. We tend to medicalise ourselves, and seek help for this problem of not being absolutely amazing all the time. Actually, the downswing of the cycle is just as beautiful as the expansion of growth, it is just quieter.

The dark moon is a time for reflection and regeneration. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells a story about an old man who struggles through the dark forest towards the light of a small lamp in a hut. When he reaches the hut a kind woman takes him in her arms and rocks him… and rocks him… and rocks him… and just before morning he is a young man with golden hair, and she continues to rock him, until the very beginnings of breaking dawn, when she plucks three hair from his head and throws them to the half, and the man, now a little golden-haired baby, runs out the door, jumps into the sky and becomes the sun.

Even in the chaotic hectic lives that we find ourselves in, there is always be a corner of the psyche where that kind woman sits in her rocking chair. There is always time where we can visit her, even just for a moment, even just with a resting thought, a hot bath or shower, a hot drink, a solitary walk, a pausing glance toward the horizon, the minutes before sleep, where we are as cradled as we possibly can be. We need to rest. We need to heal. We need to consciously nurture the self.Do you hear yourself coming up with explanations and excuses of why you cannot possibly rest? That is normal, the mind wants to say busy, to reap reward. There are a million things that you would possibly do… go go go. But even one moment of dropping the pressures of the mind, of letting the world slip away and falling into deeper awareness is precious gold for the inner self… and every step towards deeper intuition is a step towards looking at things a different way, of shifting and dissolving tensions, of solving the problem from a deeper level than the one in which is was created.

This is a lesson in self-care and regeneration. It is not always the time to perform or shine. Our dreams and ideas and hopes need nurturing too, they need to be rocked sometimes. Take this dark moon, and the next and the next… take the two or three day before the new moon every month, to sit quietly at any possible moment, to walk quietly, to rock gently… to be in that space of nurturing. Take this sacred time to honor and cradle the self in whatever way possible. Take this time to heal, because healing is a natural part of growth, of life. When everything is moving so fast, stillness is powerfully transformative.

Just breathe

Mandala by Stephanie Wild

Mandala by Stephanie Wild

A recipe for slow and lasting transformation:

Let go

Things get complicated sometimes.

There may be too many things going on inside your head, inside your life.

There may be too many restrictions, tensions, walls.

There may be no room to expand, or find peace, amid the whirlwind.

I wonder how much of this is a state of mind, how much is actually external.

It seems to always be an interaction.


When the tensions begin to impact, and the neural feedback is largely negative, something has to change.

It can feel impossible… trying to change the world around us, but there are always little things, baby steps: decluttering, taking out the trash, clearing and cleaning…

Making small commitments, that can be upheld…

Doing the things, because there are always little things, that let our brains know that we can be rewarded, now.

Making a list and checking things off can help.

When we see the same patterns over and over again in the outside world, it may be time for an inner shift.

How do we make inners shift?

Choices… always choices.

Every thought is a choice.

Every breath can be conscious…

Increasing awareness… holding tensions… letting go.

Find the root of noxious weedy thoughts and dig them out.

Breathe in through the nose for four seconds
Hold the breath for seven seconds
Breathe out through the mouth for eight seconds

Replace the old weeds with more productive and aesthetic alternatives:

I love myself
I love my life
This is the life I want to live
I am good enough