I have been teaching peaceful-abiding meditation for 14 years now, and over that time I have realized that there are many misconceptions about what to do with your mind during meditation. If you have ever sat down in a cross-legged posture, began focusing on your breath, and immediately wondered, “What should I do about all these thoughts?” this is a simple answer.
Before You Meditate
For most of us, we run around all day letting our mind flit from one topic to another like a hummingbird surrounded by bird-feeders. To turn to this hummingbird and say, “Quick! Just sit still!” wouldn’t work. In fact, it would only freak the bird out.
The same goes for us as we enter meditation. If you run in the door after a long day at work, look at your phone, realize you have 15 minutes to meditate, grab some cushions and plop down, your mind will likely still be very speedy. If your mind normally runs at 100 miles per hour, see if you can gently nudge that down to at least 60 miles per hour before beginning to meditate. That might mean having a cup of tea, changing into non-work clothes, or reading a few pages of a meditation book before you begin. Taking these few minutes to unwind allows you to transition into your meditation practice so you enter already beginning to feel a bit spacious.
While You Meditate
One of the common mistakes people make when beginning a meditation practice is believing that it is simply a way to turn off your mind. Your mind is a radiant, brilliant, amazing thing and there is no off switch. Meditation is not about zoning out and becoming a vegetable. You can befriend yourself in meditation, use it to transcend your usual experience, even have a powerful realization depending on what technique you are doing, but let’s be clear that your mind will remain “on.”
Another common misconception is that thoughts are bad and we should rid ourselves of thoughts. Our mind cannot stop producing thoughts. It’s simply what it does. Often when people discover that there is no off switch in their mind and thoughts continue to come they get discouraged and think they are the worst meditator of all time. There have been thousands of years of meditators and I promise you, you are not the worst. Not by a long shot.
Many types of meditation are not about getting rid of thoughts but about establishing a healthier relationship to what is going on in the mind. One of my favorite words for meditation is the Tibetan term “gom,” which can be translated as “become familiar with.” In other words, meditation is a way to become more familiar with what is going on in your mind and more familiar with the types of thoughts that come up throughout your day. Continue reading >>