Don’t Try to Stop Your Thoughts

TQ _ ThoughtsHave you ever been meditating, and suddenly wondered if you’re doing it incorrectly, because thoughts keep popping into your head? Somehow, a long time ago, it became common knowledge that the purpose of meditation is to stop thinking. This is of course just a myth, and one that probably grew gradually over time from people exaggerating what meditation really is. While it is possible for someone to literally stop all thinking, however, the person would have to be very adept at meditating to conquer such a feat. Conversely if the individual is a novice to meditation, the harder they tried, the harder it would become — they would just wind up thinking about not thinking. It’s a somewhat terrifying loop to imagine yourself caught in. You would achieve a brief moment of temporary silence in your mind, then a thought would spontaneously pop up, and then you’d remind yourself not to think about anything, and so on, and so on…

When you’re practicing mindfulness meditation, it’s okay to let your mind think and wander. The goal is not to stop thinking, but to change the way you think, especially the way you think about your own thoughts. Over thinking is a bad thing, not because you’re thinking so much, but rather because you’re getting wrapped up in your thoughts. Being judgmental of your thoughts is another pitfall worth avoiding. When you are being mindful, you should not pass judgment on your thoughts, or even criticize them in any way. The objective is to observe them, maybe assign a descriptive label to them, like ‘useful’ or ‘not useful,’ and then move on.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose you’re doing focused breathing, so you’re concentrating on your breathing and nothing else; but every so often, a thought creeps into your mind and distracts you. When this happens, you could do a number of things: You could notice the thought and then begin dwelling on it; you could get mad at yourself for having an unwanted thought that distracted you; you could start analyzing the thought, trying to figure out why it occurred, what it means, etc… The best thing to do in a situation like this, however, is to acknowledge that a thought popped in your mind and distracted you, and then just shift your attention back to your breathing. Another thought will pop up, and then another, and another, but that’s okay.

You don’t want to stop thinking; you just want to go about it in a different way.  So be glad that you are thinking, because it’s healthy and normal. And don’t stress about thinking too much. If your mind is distracting you, the only good solution is to let something else occupy your attention. Focused meditation is obviously one way you could do this, but I would also recommend reading a book, listening to music, playing a game, or even watching a movie or TV show.



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