“I can’t turn off my brain” is often said by those trying out meditation for the first time. Of course you can’t turn off your brain! And why would you want to? Meditation is not an emptying or turning off of the mind. The brain thinks. That’s its niche, its function. You could no less stop your brain from thinking than your heart from beating. But just as you can, through stress reducing practices, lower your heart rate or through training grow your muscles, you can also relax your mind.
Think of meditation as reducing thoughts per minute. Yes, it takes practice but can be and is being done. In fact, you probably already do it, even if you’ve never sat on a yoga mat or meditation cushion. Have you ever been so absorbed, so focused, on something that you forgot about everything else, didn’t worry about time or anything? That is meditation! Pin-pointed focus. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that meditation gives the monkey brain a branch to rest on. We don’t want to kill the monkey! We just want it to rest!
So why is it important to rest the brain? I could here list pages of the benefits of meditation, but I just want to focus (meditate!) on one right now: When you relax your mind, you have a chance to connect with the You who observes your thoughts. Your thoughts are not who you are. Thoughts and emotions are part of the physical body. They are affected by hormones, stimulants, depressants, foods, anything that affects your body can also affect your mood and thoughts. You are a constant. You are the one who is aware of emotions, thoughts, and feelings in the body. You are the witness of your own life. Without the clutter of having a million tabs open on the screen of your mind, you are able to connect with the observer that is You, the reader, the one who notices your thoughts and feelings, the one who is able to say, “I’m having a lot of negative thoughts today because I didn’t get enough sleep and my brain isn’t producing its normal amount of serotonin. But this is not who I am. It’s what is happening in my body today and it is temporary.” This is what we mean when we “woo-woo” yogis say things like, “your highest Self,” or “my true, authentic Self,” etc. We are speaking of the observer. That is what we yogis seek in meditation. It is not to stop essential and important functions like thinking from happening. It is rather to come to understand that our thoughts are not all that we are.