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.
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,
Update: Reader submissions taken from comments
Observing and saying thank-you. Anna Brzeski
Walking and using beads, Victoria
Pause between the dishes, pause between the laundry, Matt
Breathing to the heart, Janice
Observing and catching the thoughts without judgement, just noticing ’thinking’, Emily
The gap between the notes in music, Alex Colvin