Nearly everyone who begins a meditation practice will soon ask “How Can I Stop My Thoughts During Meditation?” For some reason, people believe that meditation is a practice where we want to achieve a state of ‘no thoughts.’ However, just as our hearts are designed to beat and our lungs to breathe, our brains also have their purpose, and that is to process thoughts.
This doesn’t mean that we have to remain at the mercy of our ‘out of control’ minds while meditating. Instead, it gives us insights into why we should set up a regular meditation practice and the benefits we can gain from meditation.
The most common reasons people gave to why they want to meditate include learning how to still their busy minds, achieve a sense of ‘inner peace,’ and escape from their busy daily lives. And in this article, I’ll list the most popular techniques we can use to help slow our busy minds and limit our negative thoughts.
How Can I Stop Thoughts During Meditation?
We can’t actively stop our thoughts, because just by attempting to do so, we are engaging the mechanism (thinking process) that we are wanting to stop. Most benefits of meditating are derived by learning to become detached from our thoughts, instead of trying to stop them. Detachment strips our thoughts of their power to influence us. And by quietly observing them, we can ‘COME TO KNOW OURSELVES’ and therefore better understand the relationship between our thoughts and our life circumstances. And this understanding is the major benefit of engaging in a regular meditation practice.
Is it beneficial to stop our thoughts during meditation?
When we sit down to meditate, we know that we are going to keep breathing and that our heart is going to keep beating. Because this is what these organs are designed to do. And I assume that you don’t have a problem with that? So why would we consider that our minds should stop doing what they are designed to do? Activity is the default nature of our minds……
When meditating, we should not be concerned that there are thoughts in our minds. And thinking about trying to stop them just makes things worse for us, mentally, emotionally, and physically. If we expect that our minds should be still when they are not, this will just cause us to become agitated and annoyed at ourselves.
And then we consider that we have somehow failed to meditate correctly as so we will of course negatively judge ourselves…… And this is the exact opposite of what we are wanting to achieve with a meditation practice.
“Your goal is not to battle with the mind, but to witness the mind.”– Swami Muktananda
We already know that not all of our thoughts are as we wish them to be. However, they are all a part of us, including our memories, our ideas, and our beliefs. They are all within us because of the content (experiences, events, and circumstances) that we have willingly and unwillingly been exposed to throughout our lives.
So, acceptance of this fact is the only logical way to proceed. When we accept that not all of our thoughts are going to be desirable we can allow them to be there without passing judgment on ourselves. They just are, and always have been a part of our subconscious storehouse of memories!
What should I do with unwanted thoughts during meditation?
When we meditate, we are attempting to remove ourselves from as many external stimuli as possible. We purposefully limit all stimuli including taste, touch, vision, sounds, and smells that will not enhance our practice. And therefore, our thoughts become the most prominent aspect of our experience….. i.e. we begin to notice our subconscious mental chatter a lot more than normal.
And people who are not used to this type of introspection are often surprised by the quality and content of the thoughts that are passing through their minds.
Psychologists tell us that for up to 95% of the time we are awake, we are not consciously engaged in the thinking process. And this means that our minds are not ‘consciously thinking’ but instead are producing thoughts from our memories. And, unfortunately, the same psychologists also tell us that most of us have a negative bias and therefore think more negative thoughts than positive ones, (up to 60%).
“Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.” — Dan Harris
And meditation is a process that reveals the inner workings of our deep minds to our conscious awareness. And with practice, we can train our minds to recognize that our thoughts can be like the clouds in the sky, in that we can just observe them coming and going.
If we don’t latch onto our thoughts, if we don’t invest our energy into them, they will just pass through our minds and be replaced by the next one, and the next one….. However, if we latch onto them by paying attention to them, we can create any emotional state of being, from a raging storm to equanimity in our minds and bodies….. Depending on if we choose to follow a negative line of thinking or a positive one.
It is the same throughout our normal daily lives….. It is our repetitive attachment to familiar thought patterns that have resulted in the quality of the life experience we are having. And over the years, we have built up our personalities based on things we believe to be true, (the things we think about the most often.)
“The goal of mediation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions. The goal is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.” – Dr. P Goldin
When we sit in meditation, nothing new arises in our thoughts. We are just becoming a witness to the stuff that is already present in our minds. And if we don’t like what we are thinking, we have the option to ignore it and let it go. Most often, when people want to stop their thoughts during meditation, it is because their thoughts are not desirable….. I don’t think anyone complains when their minds are behaving advantageously!
So, we use meditation as a tool to become aware of and strip the power away from the negative thoughts and false beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us. And it is desirable to do this so we can begin transforming our lives for the better where we can exist at peace with ourselves and the world at large.
What are some ways I can slow down and control my thoughts during meditation?
To achieve the maximum benefits from all things that we do, including meditation, it’s important to approach our activities with a ‘great attitude.’ If you approach tasks like going to the gym, learning new stuff, and meditation with the idea that it is difficult, guess what? It will be more difficult than it needs to be!
However, if you can learn to transition into our activities by forgetting what you have been preoccupied with, and mentally, emotionally, and physically relax, you will have a much better and more productive experience.
So how can we prepare ourselves for the best possible experience?
1) If you approach any task with the attitude of ‘this is going to be great,’ then you are likely to have a great experience. So for meditation, set yourself up somewhere you won’t be disturbed, somewhere you are very comfortable, and somewhere you can leave all thoughts of the external world behind.
2) Set a routine, and stick to it. Your mind and body will soon realize that this is the time to meditate and they will, within a little time, more easily drift into the experience with ease.
3) When you begin, clearly set your intention so that your mind and body know what is expected of them for the next 5, 10, or 20 minutes….. It may be something as simple as something like this:
“For the next 20 minutes, my mind and body will be at ease. All tension and stress will dissolve and be replaced by pure positive source energy. I am here to observe the workings of my mind with detachment, and I expect to achieve a state of pleasantness and peace, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”
4) Just assume that you will have a great comfortable and beneficial experience….. Your intention is so important and goes a long way to determining your outcomes. (I’m talking about all of life now, including your meditation practice….) If you expect and assume you will achieve your desired outcomes, you are already more than halfway to achieving them.
5) Just do it and keep doing it! Any time you spend reflecting on the workings of your mind is beneficial to you. This is because it is our minds that are responsible for creating the contents, circumstances, and conditions of our lives. With meditation, we will come to understand that it is our predominant thought patterns that are causing us to act and react in ways that return matching results to us as our circumstances (Law of Attraction.)
6) Now I can add many things including lightly-scented candles, playing soothing music, doing breathing exercises for a couple of minutes first, yoga postures for energy alignment, saying mantras, sitting on a firm cushion, lying on a soft bed, etc….. However, these are individual preferences, and it is up to you to experiment and come to realize what setting and props are going to work best for you. And the truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you do it and what you use to get you there……. Just do something and if it’s not working for you, keep adjusting your practice until you are content and comfortable with it.
If we don’t want to stop thoughts during meditation, what can we expect if we continue with a meditation practice long-term?
“There is no good or bad meditation — there is simply awareness or non-awareness. To begin with, we get distracted a lot. Over time, we get distracted less. Be gentle with your approach, be patient with the mind, and be kind to yourself along the way.” – Andy Puddicombe
The best way to approach meditation is to have no desired outcomes or expectations for how it should be. Desires and expectations mean we are reaching for something which we currently do not have, so are future-focused. And to achieve them will require some effort and possibly action. And it is these things that prevent us from achieving a still and relaxed mind.
Instead, just allow yourself to be present in this moment and allow thoughts and feelings to arise and drift away in their own good time. Initially, it may be difficult as you come to know deeper aspects of yourselves, but with continued practice, you will achieve greater clarity and more peace in all aspects of your lives.
Meditation will become a desirable aspect of every moment of your waking life as you become easily able to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Then you can filter out the less desirable ones and latch onto the beneficial ones that help create the wonderful life experience you desire.
Meditation teaches us how to live more fully in each of the moments throughout our daily lives….. And with practice, we will naturally become more discerning about what information and experiences we willingly invite into our lives…. Because we come to understand that ALL things affect our thoughts….. And it is our thoughts that are creating our feelings and emotions…. And it is our feelings that are vibrating signals out into the universal mind and attracting the circumstances of our lives!
Great lives are built upon a mind that is filled with great thoughts!
Shared with love and respect for all souls playing the game of life,