This summer I struck up a conversation with a friend about meditation. She was interested in meditating, confessing that she sorely needed to bring some calmness her chaotic life.” When I asked how meditation was going she said, “I tried it for a couple of days, but couldn’t keep it going.” I asked what kept her from continuing and she said “Well, I couldn’t stop thinking while I was supposed to be meditating. I just figured it wasn’t for me.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear some similar regarding meditation.

Sarah McLean’s first essential in developing a meditation practice is “It’s okay to have thoughts.” Let’s get one thing straight: the brain is meant to think and practically no one is going to be successful in stopping that process. Thankfully meditation isn’t about stopping or cutting off one’s thinking processes. It’s about learning to control the amount and flow of those thoughts while you’re meditating. Le’t quickly unpack that.

First, a consistent meditation practice (5-10 minutes per day) can help you limit the number of thoughts popping into your head. Remember, every time we notice that we’ve lost our focus (we start thinking about what’s for dinner, something at work, etc.) AND RETURN to our practice (focusing on our breathing), we are strengthing our meditation practice. Maybe we do this 100 times during our 5-minute meditation. That’s okay. That’s how we strengthen our practice!

Second, consistent meditation practice helps prevent us from becoming hooked by the thoughts, which interrupt the flow of our meditation. Let me explain. So you’re in the middle of your daily 5-minute meditation when the following thought “pops into your head:”

I forgot to buy eggs last night at the store. S&*t. Now what am I going to have for breakfast?

YOUR HOOKED. Now your brain begins doing an inventory of possible breakfast options (oatmeal, granola, yogurt, etc.) in your pantry.

Before you know it, the flow of your meditation has been interrupted and you are thinking:

Yum, yogurt that sounds really good. Maybe with some granola mixed in there. I hope I have some of the Kashi granola left. I’m really not a fan of the other brand I bought last night at the grocery store…

As I stated earlier, we can’t stop that original thought from entering our minds. But with practice, we can train our mind to not become hooked, which always interrupts the flow of our meditation practice. With consistent practice, maybe next time, the scenario goes like this:

I forgot to buy eggs last night at the store. S&*t. Ok, well, I’m not gonna have eggs this morning and that’s okay. Let’s finish my 5-minute meditation and then I’ll find something for breakfast.

Hungry? Me too:)

Be sure to look for my third installment. And as always, come and meditate with me at Yoga Hohm on Tuesdays (6 pm)

3 Comments on Meditation – Thoughts are ok

  1. Hey, Paul. Nice post! I have found that at night as I am trying to go to sleep it is imperative for me to stop thoughts or drastically slow them down. If not, my thinking generates beta waves and these have a way of perpetuating themselves. They are waves associated with more complex cognitive activities and are not conducive to sleep. Slowing or stopping my thoughts results in generation of alpha waves, which are conducive to rest and relaxation. As I do this for a while, I notice that images begin to emerge (I don’t conjure them, that would result in shift to beta waves), probably the beginning of REM. It’s fascinating in that I am dreaming while I am awake. Just saying….

    1. It’s cool to hear the science behind this. I do something a bit different. Like you, some thoughts tend to pop up when I first lay down to sleep. Most of the these thoughts are the more worrisome (todo lists, meetings tomorrow, etc.) What I’ve learned to do is to think about something that makes me happy (lately this has been spending time in the outdoors hiking, camping, etc.). For whatever reason, this causes me to quickly drift off to sleep.

      1. Of course, if I were a true guru I wouldn’t put off those worrisome thoughts but lean into them and experience them for what they are: thoughts.

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