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Finding the gaps

Mind the gap, please mind the gap.  If you travel the London underground you will hear it regularly and see numerous signs and placards ‘Mind the gap!’ I like these announcements as they encourage me to practice peace of mind.

 Seeking the gap?

Yes, I enjoy the gaps.  Not the physical gaps between platform and train that the warnings of the London underground caution;  I’m not a lemming.   The gaps I seek are those peaceful gaps in thought.

The gap of thoughts is that moment of tranquility between the self-chatter that our minds produce. The sometimes small pauses between discursive thoughts from our rambling mind. The problem, though, is that the untamed mind – the mind that always talks and thinks about anything and everything – is often far too loud and noisy to allow any gaps.

Meditation

So to find gaps, I meditate, not always conventionally.  And part of my meditation practice involves witnessing the gaps. Let me share my main approaches to finding these gaps in my consciousness and perhaps you would be kind enough to share yours.  My methods include:

1. The gap between breaths

During breath meditation (anapanasati) I often find it difficult to stay concentrated on the feeling of my breath moving in and moving out. The problem is that my mind, like an untrained puppy dog, will not sit still, but instead wanders from thought to thought. However, there is this brief moment when a breath transitions from drawing in to drawing out. In this moment, there is complete stillness. Having the alertness to witness these moments of stillness is a powerful method of bringing the wandering mind back from its thoughts. Furthermore, having the resolve to wait (like a cat watching a mouse hole) brings a sharp alertness to my practice of meditation. It also finds the gap in consciousness.

2. Turning when walking

Walking meditation also offers regular points to bring the focus of a meditation on mindfulness back to the task. In walking meditation, the object of the meditation is to simply walk, concentrating on the feeling of the feet on the floor. The aim is to feel as much as possible the sensations of the foot touching the ground, embracing the ground, then leaving the ground. However, as with breath meditation, my mind behaves like an attention-seeking puppy, so again it is useful to have some regular point to regain attention on the object of meditation. So, to achieve this, I set myself a small walking path; maybe 15 steps. At the end of the 15 steps I turn in a different direction and during that transition I find a gap in thoughts and reassert my attention to my feet.

3. The pause between spoken words

Another technique I sometimes use during meditation involves a simple set of words or a phrase that is repeated (a mantra). The mantra becomes the object of the meditation. With mantra meditation, the object of focus becomes the perception/feelings of the words. I find myself concentrating on the sensation of the sound. However, my mind can use virtually anything as a means for distraction and indulgence, including the words of the mantra. The beginning and end of each word or the mantra offers a small gap, a transition, and I can use this to reassert my focus and to enjoy the peace of the brief moment between things.

What and where are your gaps?

These are my main three techniques for finding gaps in thought during meditation. I would love to hear any techniques readers might have. Please feel most welcome to share your practice in the comments section below and I’ll add them to this post.

Peace and love,

Namaste.

Update: Reader submissions taken from comments

Observing and saying thank-you.  Anna Brzeski

Walking and using beadsVictoria

Pause between the dishes, pause between the laundryMatt

Breathing to the heartJanice

Observing and catching the thoughts without judgement, just noticing ’thinking’, Emily

The gap between the notes in music, Alex Colvin

 

60 Comments »

  1. Thank you, this is very helpful. I also like sometimes to listen to the silence between notes when listening to music. Or more generally just to listen to the silence that underlies all noise, including thoughts.

    Like

    • Apologies for the late response, I went offline in December to move house and this fell from the radar. The gap between notes, what a fine way to meditate! I’ll will try that for sure. Thank-you for sharing. Peace to you, namaste.

      Like

  2. Thank you, this is very helpful. I also like sometimes to listen to the silence between notes when listening to music. Or more generally just to listen to the silence that underlies all noise, including thoughts.

    Like

    • Apologies for the late response, I went offline in December to move house and this fell from the radar. The gap between notes, what a fine way to meditate! I’ll will try that for sure. Thank-you for sharing. Peace to you, namaste.

      Like

  3. Lovely reminder that there are many different ways to meditate. I find that this time of year is especially challenging to mind the gaps so your post comes at a good time. Thank you!
    Peace, love and presence!

    Like

  4. Lovely reminder that there are many different ways to meditate. I find that this time of year is especially challenging to mind the gaps so your post comes at a good time. Thank you!
    Peace, love and presence!

    Like

  5. Thank you! I’m a Londoner myself and ‘mind the gap’ always made me want to catch my foot between the train and platform. I never did, but it’s like when someone says ‘don’t think about pink elephants’… it’s there. I like how you associated it with pauses in thought, this is something I am working on at the moment (I seem to be rebelling at the moment though!). During my meditation my focus is on the out-breath and each time a thought rises I say ‘thinking’, as non-judgmentally as possible (I try and smile at my busy mind otherwise frustration would no doubt roam free!). Mindfulness is incredible as I am noticing how each thought is effecting my physical too. I practice Kundalini Yoga and Ashtanga (repetitive movement is a great, although uncomfortable at times) and I try to chant after each practice, this has proven so beneficial as it relieves my mind from anything other than focusing on the clarity of words. I’m waffling now, thank you for the post 🙂

    Like

    • I have tried the ‘thinking’ notification too. I read that in a text from Chogyam Trunpa and its helps a lot sometimes. Its non-judgemental which I like also. I find it stops my mind from getting lost on some long passage of thought too. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Namaste.

      Like

  6. Thank you! I’m a Londoner myself and ‘mind the gap’ always made me want to catch my foot between the train and platform. I never did, but it’s like when someone says ‘don’t think about pink elephants’… it’s there. I like how you associated it with pauses in thought, this is something I am working on at the moment (I seem to be rebelling at the moment though!). During my meditation my focus is on the out-breath and each time a thought rises I say ‘thinking’, as non-judgmentally as possible (I try and smile at my busy mind otherwise frustration would no doubt roam free!). Mindfulness is incredible as I am noticing how each thought is effecting my physical too. I practice Kundalini Yoga and Ashtanga (repetitive movement is a great, although uncomfortable at times) and I try to chant after each practice, this has proven so beneficial as it relieves my mind from anything other than focusing on the clarity of words. I’m waffling now, thank you for the post 🙂

    Like

    • I have tried the ‘thinking’ notification too. I read that in a text from Chogyam Trunpa and its helps a lot sometimes. Its non-judgemental which I like also. I find it stops my mind from getting lost on some long passage of thought too. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Namaste.

      Like

  7. Simon,
    I so enjoy your posts. I’m working with these same issues. During breathe meditation, I focus on dropping down from my out of control mind into my heart. Just that conscious move into my heart changes the energy around my meditation and I find it easier to focus on my breathe. In walking meditation, I really connect to the feel of the floor or ground under my feet, feeling every point of contact of my feet and the feel of my body in the space.
    Wishing you sweet meditations my friend.

    Like

  8. Simon,
    I so enjoy your posts. I’m working with these same issues. During breathe meditation, I focus on dropping down from my out of control mind into my heart. Just that conscious move into my heart changes the energy around my meditation and I find it easier to focus on my breathe. In walking meditation, I really connect to the feel of the floor or ground under my feet, feeling every point of contact of my feet and the feel of my body in the space.
    Wishing you sweet meditations my friend.

    Like

  9. Hello Simon,
    Thank you so much for posting and writing this. I’m back after a long break from work and this was just what my mind needed to slow down and focus.
    Mantra meditations with some pranayama work best for me. After I practice the mantra for a while, a Pavlov effect seems to overtake my mind so that as soon as I begin to even think the words, my mind takes comfort in them and slows. It’s lovely.

    Like

    • That’s nice to hear, I have had some lovely meditations from mantra too 😀 It’s also a really good method for me when I am a bit tired and need something active to stop feeling heavy and sleepy.

      Like

  10. Hello Simon,
    Thank you so much for posting and writing this. I’m back after a long break from work and this was just what my mind needed to slow down and focus.
    Mantra meditations with some pranayama work best for me. After I practice the mantra for a while, a Pavlov effect seems to overtake my mind so that as soon as I begin to even think the words, my mind takes comfort in them and slows. It’s lovely.

    Like

    • That’s nice to hear, I have had some lovely meditations from mantra too 😀 It’s also a really good method for me when I am a bit tired and need something active to stop feeling heavy and sleepy.

      Like

  11. Hi Simon! I enjoyed reading about your meditating process. It’s inspiring me to get out of bed at sit right now. For me, I practice embracing everything that shows up, ultimately it can lead to gaps, because it stops the mental arguing with ego/conditioning! Man, that can go on forever. I don’t really have an aspiration of finding the gaps anymore, lovely as they are, as for me it turns meditation into a kind of striving. That’s how my brain works… always trying to do it right.

    There’s a sweetness in connecting with other folks on this path. I’m just noticing that.

    Cheers!

    Like

    • Awww, thanks Wendy 😀 That’s a truly nice thing to think you were inspired to meditate. I understand the ‘not finding’ mentality, but sometimes, I really need the basic approach to slow down and stop.

      Like

  12. Hi Simon! I enjoyed reading about your meditating process. It’s inspiring me to get out of bed at sit right now. For me, I practice embracing everything that shows up, ultimately it can lead to gaps, because it stops the mental arguing with ego/conditioning! Man, that can go on forever. I don’t really have an aspiration of finding the gaps anymore, lovely as they are, as for me it turns meditation into a kind of striving. That’s how my brain works… always trying to do it right.

    There’s a sweetness in connecting with other folks on this path. I’m just noticing that.

    Cheers!

    Like

    • Awww, thanks Wendy 😀 That’s a truly nice thing to think you were inspired to meditate. I understand the ‘not finding’ mentality, but sometimes, I really need the basic approach to slow down and stop.

      Like

  13. Very good advice. I try to do this in daily activities such as doing the dishes. Focus on cleaning each dish. Between objects take a breath and reassert your focus. Same with laundry or any other household task. I read of one person who thinks about each object in terms of what it does for them as they clean them in order to retain a strong focus on the moment.

    Like

    • A pause between every action, that’s cute. I try during the dishes too. I attend a lovely talk at the London Buddhist Society a few years ago where they described their country retreat site. A the site their attendees would polish and clean all day long! Imagine the slavery of it. But, they loved it for the reasons you state. Every polish was with mindfulness.

      Like

  14. Very good advice. I try to do this in daily activities such as doing the dishes. Focus on cleaning each dish. Between objects take a breath and reassert your focus. Same with laundry or any other household task. I read of one person who thinks about each object in terms of what it does for them as they clean them in order to retain a strong focus on the moment.

    Like

    • A pause between every action, that’s cute. I try during the dishes too. I attend a lovely talk at the London Buddhist Society a few years ago where they described their country retreat site. A the site their attendees would polish and clean all day long! Imagine the slavery of it. But, they loved it for the reasons you state. Every polish was with mindfulness.

      Like

  15. Great writing on simple ways to pause. I personally take time every day to stretch my muscles and wrap my meditating into that. It helps to stop everything else and think only about that muscle you are stretching, taking your breath mentally from your nose to the muscle. It was the only way I could stop the puppy in my mind from distracting me 🙂

    Like

    • Yes! The puppy mind that needs to be brought back to sit every few minutes. Thank-you for sharing! Apologies for the delay but I went offline in December and this fell from the radar. Peace and love to you ❤

      Like

  16. Great writing on simple ways to pause. I personally take time every day to stretch my muscles and wrap my meditating into that. It helps to stop everything else and think only about that muscle you are stretching, taking your breath mentally from your nose to the muscle. It was the only way I could stop the puppy in my mind from distracting me 🙂

    Like

    • Yes! The puppy mind that needs to be brought back to sit every few minutes. Thank-you for sharing! Apologies for the delay but I went offline in December and this fell from the radar. Peace and love to you ❤

      Like

  17. The greatest gap of all may be the Void: the formless from which all volition, all creation and all experience flows forth. The Void is nothing much in itself. Lao Tzu speaks of the hole in the wheel that allows the wheel to find use, the emptiness in a vase being that which makes it useful, the holes and spaces in the building that make it habitable and which give windows their purpose – the Void is that which is not and yet it is that which simultaneously, inversely, reflexively defines that which is. When that which is finds it’s boundary and definition in that which isn’t, logic dissolves. Where there is no-thing, some-thing can find use. Complex explanations of the ineffable are like sand mandalas – we should brush them away once they are complete. Discard attachment to the vessel.

    Thankyou for inspiring reflection.
    http://www.bookoffiverings.com/Emptiness.htm
    🙂

    Like

  18. The greatest gap of all may be the Void: the formless from which all volition, all creation and all experience flows forth. The Void is nothing much in itself. Lao Tzu speaks of the hole in the wheel that allows the wheel to find use, the emptiness in a vase being that which makes it useful, the holes and spaces in the building that make it habitable and which give windows their purpose – the Void is that which is not and yet it is that which simultaneously, inversely, reflexively defines that which is. When that which is finds it’s boundary and definition in that which isn’t, logic dissolves. Where there is no-thing, some-thing can find use. Complex explanations of the ineffable are like sand mandalas – we should brush them away once they are complete. Discard attachment to the vessel.

    Thankyou for inspiring reflection.
    http://www.bookoffiverings.com/Emptiness.htm
    🙂

    Like

  19. I meditate when I walk long distances, sometimes I pray the rosary the rhythm of the repetitive prayers comfort me while I feel my feet pound the ground, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair. I feel it all. Very calming, very freeing.

    Like

  20. I meditate when I walk long distances, sometimes I pray the rosary the rhythm of the repetitive prayers comfort me while I feel my feet pound the ground, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair. I feel it all. Very calming, very freeing.

    Like

  21. Gratitude for me is often a gap. When I spot something beautiful or feel a pleasant sensation, I remember to say thank you (to my body, to life, to the earth) and it slows down the thinking process a bit. The appreciation itself is a sort of gap. Love your posts!

    Like

  22. Gratitude for me is often a gap. When I spot something beautiful or feel a pleasant sensation, I remember to say thank you (to my body, to life, to the earth) and it slows down the thinking process a bit. The appreciation itself is a sort of gap. Love your posts!

    Like

  23. Hi Simon,
    As follower enjoy your articles. In a comment I was asked the preparations I make to meditate. Said no preparations are necessary.
    Just peel a potato and observing yourself “peeling a potato”. Our life is the preparation, at every moment, every hour, every day, can be used to be mindful. No exercise is ever wasteful it all adds to our common consciousness bank. Be awake when ever the time comes, when your personality disappears and your real self appears!
    Please do not drive when meditating.

    Bridie.

    Like

  24. Hi Simon,
    As follower enjoy your articles. In a comment I was asked the preparations I make to meditate. Said no preparations are necessary.
    Just peel a potato and observing yourself “peeling a potato”. Our life is the preparation, at every moment, every hour, every day, can be used to be mindful. No exercise is ever wasteful it all adds to our common consciousness bank. Be awake when ever the time comes, when your personality disappears and your real self appears!
    Please do not drive when meditating.

    Bridie.

    Like

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