How to Relate to Your Thoughts During Meditation

Terminology

Before we begin, I want you to know that I am assuming that your meditation has a point of focus, such as your breath, a mantra, a chakra, your hand, etc.

Beginner’s mind

What you are experiencing is normal. You have become aware for the first time of something that has been happening your whole life: monkey mind. Whether you realize it or not, this new awareness is huge. You have become self-aware.

We all have monkey mind. The monkey is particularly noisy in the beginning. This discourages some people, because they have a preconceived idea of how meditation is suppose to go. It is not suppose to go any particular way. What you are experiencing is exactly “how it is supposed to go.” Your job is just to notice.

Your relationship to your thoughts

Thoughts are not the enemy. The difficulty is in our relationship to our thoughts. When we lack self-awareness, we are identified with our thoughts. These thoughts lead to feelings about the thoughts which leads to thoughts about those feelings which leads to feeling about those thoughts… It’s a vicious cycle. We are at the mercy of our thoughts and feelings.

The good news is you can cultivate new relationship with your thoughts. You can begin to view them as objects. The Buddhists call thoughts, objects of the mind.

This sounds strange at first, but in this new frame, you no longer identify with your thoughts. This means that you are not your thoughts. Instead you have thoughts. Over time, you may begin to experience yourself as the space in which thoughts occur.

The experience of peace

You aren’t your thoughts. You aren’t your feelings. You have thoughts and feelings. You are the context in which thoughts and feelings take place. Who you are is spacious and large. Thoughts and feelings are small in comparison. This is peace.This may not make sense yet, but it will.

Advice on meditation

Allow yourself to have thoughts when they come. Then gently bring your attention back to your point of focus. There is nothing wrong with thoughts. Allow them to be. When you notice them, gently bring your attention back.

In meditation, you are training your attention. There are two aspects to this. The first aspect is noticing when you are lost in thought. When this happens, you have awakened from your reverie. In this moment, you have thoughts, but you are no longer lost in the thoughts.

The second aspect is gently bringing your attention back to your focus. Continue to be aware of your point of focus, until you are lost in thought again. This OK. It is normal.

It is a meditation practice, not a competition. There aren’t standards you have to meet. There is nothing to prove by “being a better meditator.” It is something youpractice every day.

Looking forward

Over time, you will find:

  • You become aware of being lost in thought sooner than you have before.
  • You can maintain your awareness on your point of focus for a longer period than you have before.

Other things you may begin to notice are:

  • You can have a thought while maintaining awareness of your point of focus. This is a very conscious thought!
  • Some days your mind is racing and you keep getting lost in your thoughts. This is normal. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. Even very experienced meditators have days like this. The fact that you are conscious of it happeningshows awareness.
  • Thoughts slow down until gaps between the thoughts appear. This pause occurs not because you stopped your thoughts. It occurs because you trained your attention.
  • This gap will widen over time until you have the experience of going minutes without a thought. This is what is called kensho in Zen.

Meditation it is NOT about trying NOT to think.

Meditation is training your attention. Over time, the thoughts will slow down until there are gaps between thoughts. These gaps will continue to get larger.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

meditation conundrum

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