Joe Omundson

What does it sound like inside your head?

If you’re like me, your mind races from one thought to the next. Between work, relationships, fears, goals, ideas, and other random thoughts, there is hardly a moment’s rest. These thoughts are intertwined with emotions, with pleasure and pain, and we ride them like a roller coaster day after day, year after year.

Many of us live life at the mercy of these uncontrollable thoughts. We get stuck in the past or the future. We lack the ability to examine our thoughts objectively and set them aside, to pay full attention to the present moment. It’s a shame because Right Now is the only time we ever have contact with. When we thrive in the here and now, our lives are more happy and effective.

Two years ago I went to a meditation retreat and for the first time experienced what it was like to have a still, calm mind. I learned how to access a wonderful peace and clarity, and meditation has been an invaluable aid for me ever since. Not everyone has time for a retreat, but even 10 minutes can make a difference, and you can do it by yourself in the comfort of your own home.

Want to try? Here are some simple instructions:

Find a comfortable position in a peaceful environment. Lying down is fine, or sitting on a chair, whatever is the least distracting. If you want to try the traditional cross-legged position, it helps to elevate your hips above your knees by sitting on a cushion.

Start a timer for the amount of time you want to meditate. Five to 15 minutes is a good start. Even if it feels like a waste of time halfway through, try to stick with it at least once.

Put all of your attention on your breathing. Breathe through your nose if possible. Don’t try to change, control, or deepen your breathing; it’s fine the way it is. Simply notice it. In this moment, is air flowing in? In this moment, is air flowing out? When does it change direction? Is there a pause when it changes? What does the sensation feel like in your nostrils, or on your lips? Is there tingling or obstruction? Is it easier to inhale or exhale? Notice the quality of your breathing in each moment.

Your mind will wander. Within seconds, you might start thinking about work, or a friend, or an errand. That’s completely normal. Pay attention to this, and whenever you realize that you have begun to form a thought in your mind, quietly think to yourself, “Now I’m having a thought about _____,” then do your best to drop it and redirect your attention to your breath. Notice the thought, and let it go. Meditation can often feel difficult at first because our minds are out of control – but that’s OK! If you’re doing your best to notice your thoughts and return to the breath, you’re doing it right.

At first your attention might wander immediately into thought, and it’ll take a couple minutes to realize this and return your focus to your breath. In time, it will become easier to stay with your breath longer, and to notice quickly when your mind has strayed. It’s a skill that takes practice over time, like building a muscle. At the meditation retreat I got to a point where I could sit for an entire hour with full attention on my breath; an impossibility, before.

This is called Anapana meditation and it is helpful for people with overactive minds. There are other kinds of meditation for those who want to strengthen mental focus or reach spiritual states. I have chosen to describe this variety of meditation because it’s a simple technique that I’ve found very helpful in soothing my own chaotic brain, but try other techniques and see what works for you.

Do you feel any different when you resume your day? Some people give meditation a fair shot and it doesn’t help much. That’s OK too. The overall goal is to get in touch with your body, and to focus your mind on the present moment instead of a jungle of thoughts. There are many good ways to do this – you could try yoga, dancing, running, hiking, or any number of activities.

Through meditation we can learn about our subconscious minds. By examining the thoughts that arise seemingly from nowhere, we might realize that we engage in needless self-criticism, struggle with pain from past traumas, or obsess on certain things more than is healthy. When we understand these things about ourselves we gain the power to take responsibility for our own experiences, to improve the way we treat ourselves and others.

You’re the only person on Earth with access to your mind – why not become an expert on what’s inside?

Joe Omundson writes about travel, philosophy and society. You can email him at Read more at