Should I use Affirmations in my Meditations?
Thinking is the structured use of mental reasoning, where we verbalize or talk to ourselves inside our head. Affirmations are a specific type of thinking. In an affirmation our intention is to create a thought that strengthens and affirms, a particular thought, emotion or action.
In meditation, our overall objective is to increase the level of deliberateness of everything we are doing in consciousness. Thoughts are just one part of our consciousness. If you want to understand the different parts of consciousness that meditation helps us to experience more deliberately, please read A Model For Mindfullness. That article explains how we can understand consciousness in terms of fifteen distinct senses, all of which we can choose to practice and improve using various different meditation techniques.
For a lot of people, thinking is their most dominant sense of consciousness, possibly even one that they find intrusive and even impossible to turn off. Affirmations can allow many people to regain control over their thinking, and using willpower and repetition, attempt to rewire their brains with positive, deliberate thoughts, instead of the intrusive and runaway thoughts that they may usually have. In the article Should I be thinking in Meditation?, I look at the role of thinking in meditation in more detail.
When we create affirmations, we are directing our attention to making our thought dialogues much more deliberate than usual. Normally, we are also trying to make them positive, encouraging and empowering, so we choose them carefully in order to align them with the results that we desire.
Affirmations were one of the first things I worked with when I started to discover self-development tools as a teenager. At that age, my passion was sports, so I needed a way to push myself very hard physically as I trained for competition. I used Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), which is a sophisticated form of improving our thoughts processes. It was very effective, and I became a great athlete, even representing my country several times at the most elite level of my sport.
The problem was that these affirmations were very much a ‘brute force’ approach. I was using my thoughts to over-ride everything else in my consciousness, and ‘push through’ both physical and emotional barriers. I become hyper-focused on that one area of achievement, neglecting other areas of my consciousness and my life, such as emotions, relationships, intuition, and creativity.
When I then learnt to meditate, I started to unravel the brute force approach that had served me so well. I realized that my emotions needed just as much attention as my thoughts, and potentially an even more important part of self-care than my thoughts were. I had to rethink the role of the affirmations that I had been using.
Affirmations can Guide us Deeper in Meditation
Meditation is the practice of becoming more aware of everything in our consciousness, not just how to create thoughts more deliberately in the form of affirmations.
If we want to use affirmations as part of our meditation practice, we can do so by carefully designing them to guide ourselves into deeper states during our meditation practice. For instance, the affirmation “I am becoming calmer with every breath I take” might be effective to direct your attention to your breathing during breath meditation practice.
We do need to realize that because affirmations are a form of thinking, which is just one of many different senses in our consciousness, that we should not spend all of our time and attention working with affirmations, and instead use them as a tool for guiding our attention where we want it to go.
The English hypnotherapist Marissa Peer sums it up when she says, “the mind goes where you tell it to”. The idea that we are in control of how we are directing our attention is critical in meditation, especially when we start to do more advanced meditation techniques where we are directing our attention to abstract concepts and subtle, unusual, or resisted emotions.
For instance, if you are practicing the meditation skills of managing your attention, affirmations can be a great way to direct your attention. You might use the affirmation, “When I direct my attention to the sounds I hear, I become totally absorbed in those sounds”. In that affirmation, you are very deliberately instructing your brain to use your attention in a specific way in order to increase both your attention skills, and to focus in on your perception from just a single sense.
As experiencing your emotions fully is a big part of meditation, you can carefully design affirmations in such a way that they remind you to feel a specific emotion fully. “I fully experience a feeling of hope, whenever I decide to” might be a way to fouls your attention on the specific emotion you want to work on, as well as reinforcing that you are the one deciding what emotions you choose to experience in life.
When working with emotions, take care generating the actual emotion that the affirmation describes, not just verbalizing the affirmation as a thought, and hoping that the emotion follows.
Affirmations and Mysticism
A lot of affirmations are based on faith-based ideas that there is some external controlling force in the universe that is ‘listening’ for your affirmations and has the power to grant them or manifest reality if it ‘hears’ or ‘receives’ your thoughts.
Prayer is one example of a faith-based affirmation. In prayer, you ask some external being or force for a particular outcome. The underlying assumption that the power or force or God you are addressing has the power to manipulate reality and satisfy your request. ‘Sending energy to the universe’ is another faith-based affirmation, with a whole raft of mystical assumptions behind it that the universe is made of energy, and that the human brain is capable of interacting with that energy in a way significant enough to alter reality.
I don’t mind mysticism, religion, or prayer; a lot of people find mystical beliefs and faith-based affirmations extremely comforting. Some studies confirm that people that have faith-based practices are healthier and happier than those who do not.
What I like to encourage is to be aware and honest with yourself that mystical beliefs are a specific way of using your mind and emotions. Mystical beliefs deliberately create ideas that cannot be verified in reality. Essentially, they ignore cause and effect deliberately. This helps some people feel more comfortable about aspects of life that are difficult to grasp or trigger fear or other uncomfortable emotions.
Meditation, in contrast, is about perceiving reality exactly as it is. Meditation is the process of being scrupulously honest with ourselves, and to notice more carefully than usual what is going on with our body sensations, our thoughts, our memories, our emotions and other more subtle senses. That honesty includes the nature of your beliefs, and whether our beliefs contain some form of deliberate self-deception.
The Right Tool at the Right Time
Affirmations are a powerful tool in any meditator's skillset. Carefully constructed and used, they can direct our attention in ways that accelerate our progress in meditation, and leave us genuinely feeling touched, inspired and connected.
Here’s the affirmation I choose to leave with you: “As I imagine you finishing this article, I am feeling even more hope that together, we can create a better world for all of us”.
About the Author
Peter Hill loves to take time to think and feel deeply. Over thirty years, he has studied dozens of meditation, self-development, and spiritual techniques. Guided by neuroscience rather than mysticism, his mission is to teach people to live better lives by using their brains more effectively.
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