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Why It’s OK to Have Thoughts During Meditation

I hear it all the time: “I can’t meditate because I can’t stop my mind from thinking.” It’s the most common objection I hear from people when it comes to meditation.

It seems there is a widespread belief that meditation is impossible unless you can completely empty your mind. Nothing can be further from the truth.

It’s your mind’s JOB to think. That’s what it does. It’s very hard to silence that chatter, what Buddhists call the “monkey mind.”

But what most people fail to realize is that meditation is the process of quieting the mind. It doesn’t require a quiet mind to begin. In fact, a quiet mind isn’t even necessarily the goal of meditation. You can reap huge benefits from a meditation that seemed like nothing but a thought-a-thon.

If you’re using the racing mind effect as an excuse for not meditating, I hope you will reconsider your position after reading the rest of this post.

First off, when you sit down to meditate, you should take a few deep breaths and remember what you’re intending to do. As you begin your meditation, it’s helpful to focus on something, whether it’s your breath or a mantra. As a side note, I’m a huge fan of mantra based meditations, like Primordial Sound Meditation, but we’ll leave that discussion for a future post on types of meditation.

When thoughts come into your mind, as they undoubtedly will (and yes, they may stream non-stop), do not try to resist them. Resisting your thoughts will only cause them to be more persistent. Simply acknowledge the thought and continue with your focal point (breath or mantra).

Another important point is don’t chase the thought. If, “What am I going to make for dinner?” pops into your head during meditation, don’t start planning your menu. Don’t chase that rabbit down the hole. Simply acknowledge the thought and return your focus to your breath or mantra. Repeat this process as thoughts continue to cycle through the duration of your meditation.

In my post What You Will Experience During Meditation, I describe the different experiences you can have during meditation, one of which is thoughts. I also mention that there are different types of thoughts.

Some may believe that experiences they are having during meditation fall outside the three types of experiences, but that’s because they don’t realize how many different forms a thought can take. Here are some examples:

  • You may have trains of ideas, images, memories, or other everyday thoughts go through your mind.
  • You may see pictures, colors, light, or other visual images.
  • You may become aware of a physical sensation in your body, such as tingling, twitching, warmth, or some slight physical movement.
  • You may become aware of a mood or emotion, like happiness, sadness, or even a slight sensation in the area of your heart.
  • You may find yourself listening to a sound in your body or a noise outside in the environment.

When you realize your attention has drifted away from your focal point, gently bring your attention back to your breath or mantra. Whenever you have a choice, choose the focal point over other thoughts.

The key point here is be easy with these experiences without attempting to force them out of your awareness.  Just allow your attention to flow effortlessly back and forth between your focal point and any other mental activity.

I hope this clarifies the racing mind effect and convinces you that having thoughts during meditation is completely normal.

Happy meditating!

2 comments… add one
  • Another informative post on meditation! I had always had a vague idea that you were supposed to empty your mind….thanks for the information.

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  • I loved the your phrase: when you realize your attention has drifted away from your focal point, gently bring your attention back to your breath or mantra…I am sure that it is much, much simpler than it seems…

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