One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it will silence the mind. In fact, learning how to stop random thoughts during meditation has become the Holy Grail.
But see, here’s the thing. If meditation could silence the mind, our entire planet would be cured of its many ills. Humanity would become cooperative. War would end. Suffering would cease. We would have utopia.
The reality is, as you practice, you will have thoughts. That’s what the mind does – it has thoughts. Lots of thoughts. This includes ideas as well as emotional reactions to those ideas. Some thoughts are insightful. Many are busywork. And a lot of them are pure noise.
The Mind Can’t Keep Its Big Mouth Shut
We go to great lengths, both profound (meditation and prayer, for example) and profane (drugs, alcohol, and so forth), to make the mind shut its big mouth. All to no lasting avail. Even after many years of consistent practice, you’ll sometimes experience not just a train of thought during meditation, but a veritable train wreck of thought. Ironically, this will often occur when you most deeply crave mental silence and inner peace.
All is not lost, however. Even though we’re pretty much stuck with our chatty minds, it is possible to slow the mind down, settle it, in and out of meditation, and make it more an ally than an enemy combatant.
The following tip will show you how to stop random thoughts during meditation. Or at least manage them. It’s simple, and anyone can do it. Ready?
THE 3-STEP SOLUTION
1. Notice that you’re having a thought.
2. Tell yourself that you’re having a thought.
3. Let the thought go, neither fighting it nor following it.
It might help to further detach from your thoughts if you use the simple, passive-voice phrase, a thought is happening, rather than I’m having a thought.
Consider the difference between these two phrases.
When you tell yourself that you’re having a thought, you identify with the thought, whatever it is, as something belonging to you, something that you’re doing, or controlling…something you should be doing something about. But when you tell yourself that a thought is happening, it’s as though you have nothing to do with the thought, it’s merely something that’s occurring, and you are merely observing that it’s occurring.
Remember, you’re not looking to notice the thought itself. Rather, you want to notice that you are having the thought. As soon as you do this, you’re no longer lost in thought but instead very much present in the Now of witnessing yourself having thoughts. Totally different thing. And don’t be afraid to repeat the three steps as often as needed. Even if it seems to be every minute of your practice session.
Practice this Technique In and Out of Meditation
Try using this technique as often as you’d like, anytime you’d like. Both in and outside of meditation. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes to let go of thoughts easily. The worries, the constant planning, the circular doubts, the nagging guilt, shame or overall stress that plagues you…this simple technique will help.
You’ll quickly discover for yourself what a relief it is to stop spinning around in your random thoughts. And what a joy it is to get off the wheel of their impact on your serenity.
The next time you’re meditating, whether you’re counting breaths or engaging in deep visualization, try cutting yourself some slack for having thoughts.
If you’re interested, you might try using our Music Meditations, created specifically to help you focus as you engage in your own practice and techniques. Also helpful are our Enhanced Meditations, which use voice guides to walk you through a particular technique or practice that’s new to you.
However you decide to approach it, with or without our help, please be gentle and compassionate with yourself, and try looking at it this way.
Imagine you’re relaxing on a grassy hill, gazing up into a blue sky fluffy with white clouds. As you’re looking for shapes and images in these clouds, you notice a bird flying across the sky. Your eye might be momentarily caught by its color or flying style, but your focus remains on the clouds.
Birds will fly. Let them.
Image courtesy of Chris Child