A 3-Step Approach For Managing Thoughts During Meditation
People often tell me that they can’t meditate because their minds are too busy. Each time they close their eyes and guide their awareness to their senses, a myriad of random, often mundane thoughts come flooding in, such as “what am I going to cook for dinner?”, “I need to send that email off”, “why did so-and-so look at me like that today?” and so forth. This comment always makes me laugh as it’s the main reason people give me as to why they don’t practice.
The funny thing is, we will never be able to stop our minds from thinking. Asking your mind to stop thinking for a little while would be the same as asking your heart to stop beating – it just isn’t physiologically possible. The majority of us have extremely busy ‘monkey minds’, constantly jumping from thought to thought, worrying about the future or ruminating over details from the past. I know this might come as a shock, but thinking is actually a natural and unavoidable part of meditation. So, whatever happens in your mind throughout your meditation, please do not thinking be a deterrent!
Ultimately, meditation is a three-step practice...
1. Focus your awareness on an anchor
When you begin your practice, you’ll gently rest your awareness on a focal point, also referred to as an anchor. Depending on the style of meditation you are practicing, this could be your breath, the sensations in your body, a mantra, sound or visualisation.
2. Lose focus
After about 6-7 seconds your awareness will start to wander off and different thoughts will pop into your mind. This is normal! It’s not a mistake, it doesn’t mean you can’t meditate, it’s not good or bad, right or wrong. It’s just your mind doing it’s job. When your mind wanders off, the key is to notice the fact that you have lost focus.
Once you have noticed that your mind has drifted off you can allow yourself to take the stance of the “watcher” or the “observer” of your thoughts. You might like to imagine that your mind is a clear blue sky and your thoughts are simply clouds passing through. Instead of pushing your thoughts away or clinging on to them by building stories and narratives, all you have to do is notice that they’re there. You can say to yourself “thinking” and then guide your mind back to your focal point.
Each time your mind wanders off to different thoughts, emotions and distractions, all you have to do is return to your anchor, your point of focus. It can be incredibly frustrating to work through this process over and over again, so I recommend bringing a sense of kindness and gentleness to your awareness, which we will discuss in greater detail in the next lecture.
Throughout your meditation practice, you will work through these three steps time and time again. This coming back to your focal point over and over again is what the practice is all about! Although it can be incredibly challenging, particularly at the beginning of your meditation journey, it’s important to remember to let go of your tendency to judge your experiences and your desire to beat yourself up. As best as you can, see if you can allow yourself to experience whatever is going on in the present moment without judgement, evaluation or criticism. All you have to do is continue drawing on your willingness to begin again.
The good news is that the more you train your mind to pay attention, the easier it will become to stay focused on your anchor. In time, your mind will wander less and less and you will find it much easier to detach yourself from the perpetual noise of your mind.