Creating a quiet inner space

mind at work

Sree Mitra

March 29, 2024

Author: Dr Steve Hickman

If you’re like most people, you may find confined physical spaces to be uncomfortable, disconcerting, and maybe even terrifying. Packed elevators, narrow passageways, and crowded sidewalks leave us feeling trapped, powerless and vulnerable.

But what about the tangled traffic jam that we usually find in our own minds? The flood of thinking, worrying, planning, fantasizing, and ruminating that our human brains can conjure up on a regular basis is truly claustrophobic most of the time. With the multi-tasking, always-on, fast-paced, stressed-out lives that we live, it’s no wonder that we rarely feel any sense of spaciousness or ease in our own heads. 

Did you know that most people would rather experience an electric shock than be truly present with their own thoughts?*  

Leaves you with the distinct impression that you’re doomed to live with a head full of spirited debate, blended with cocktail party chatter and punctuated by a rock concert for the rest of your days.

But there is actually hope, and it is within our grasp, to create a bit of metaphorical space in our minds. More importantly, there are very good reasons to pursue some quiet inside. Make no mistake – the purpose here is not to disengage, zone out or retreat from the world. We just want to shift to engaging more meaningfully and intentionally within it.

Being present in the here and now

The mind is capable of considering the past and anticipating the future, which is wonderful in many regards, but in the real world of big decisions and difficult situations, we are better off letting go of the “time travel” and focusing on the present moment alone. In other words, on the most crucial challenges we face on a daily basis, it would behoove us to be more fully present and to focus our attention on one thing at a time.

Creating space in the mind

In order to mentally “clear the decks” however, our typical approach is counter-productive. In the physical world, if we want to de-clutter our desk, we can push everything into a drawer (with the hope that we will find what we are looking for when we need it). 

In our minds, trying to push away thinking, worrying, planning, etc only magnifies them. In other words, “what we resist, persists”. Have you ever tried to follow the advice “Don’t worry”? Even if you try, your mind responds with “Worry? Worry about what? What should I be worried about?” and you are off the worry races, more ensnared than ever in worry.

So the answer is to instead create space in the mind for quiet, that slowly dominates that inner world and allows the mind to rest and the time travel to cease. Worries shrink and rumination slows when we simply pause, drop into the present moment and focus on what is actually here. 

Becoming quiet

The most effective and efficient way to create this kind of quiet in the mind is to direct our attention to our physical sensations, which are always present, and to cultivate the skill to simply stay present and be aware of each moment. 

Meditation is one proven method of cultivating this kind of inner quiet and focused presence, and when done systematically, can create the possibility of more of these moments in our daily lives. 

But you don’t have to be a seasoned meditator. Here’s a simple exercise for you to try out.

The next time you are faced with a difficult situation, see if you can catch yourself going into the thought-autopilot mode. Instead, shift your attention to a physical sensation like the soles of your feet, or the feel of your body on the seat, or even the sensation of your body breathing. It’s no more complicated than that, but opens up a world of possibilities for navigating a challenging situation with greater ease and clarity. 

Be patient, know that your mind will want to go back to wandering, but you can redirect your attention back to the moment over and over again by doing this simple exercise. The more patience and curiosity you can muster, the more your mind will start to settle into focus and quiet. 

Becoming quiet in difficult moments creates cognitive space, gives you room to move, to see problems from different perspectives, and consider creative solutions.

*Research published in the Science by Wilson, et al, entitled “Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind

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