Is It OK To Think During Meditation?
One of the most pervasive misconceptions to do with meditation is the idea that we shouldn’t be having any thought while we are meditating.
This is of course not true and can be very disheartening to new meditators sitting down to practice and then battling a tidal wave of thoughts and thinking “I’m doing this wrong.”
The truth is, we meditate to learn how to manage our thoughts, so if those thoughts disappeared, we’d have no tool to practice with!
No thoughts, no meditation.
How to think about thoughts
The vast majority of meditation techniques will use some form of stimulus as the focus of the meditation. For example, you might be trying to concentrate on your breath or bodily sensation when body scanning. You could be paying attention to the bottom of your foot while doing walking meditation or focusing on a mantra that you’re repeating in your mind.
No matter what it is your trying to tune into, your stream of consciousness will always be trying to compete for that attention.
Try to view those competing thought like a radio playing in the background whilst you’re trying to have a conversation with a good friend.
You know what have to say is important, but sometimes you just can’t help but get distracting by whats happening in the background.
Our goal is to keep directing our focus back to where we want it when we realise we’ve become distracted.
The background noise is never going to go away, but we can turn it down and have some control over how much attention we give it.
Here’s a video of monk Mingyur Rinpoche describing some common misunderstandings about practising meditation.
What to think about when meditating
In some cases, we might be using thoughts as the focus of the meditation, or perhaps we are using thoughts as a way to set an intention.
This may seem confusing considering what we just talked about, but we’ll clear things up below.
A Mantra is a specific thought you generate to use as the focus of your meditation session. We generally choose a word that we have no connotations to so that the mantra itself doesn’t become a distraction.
For example, if we chose our first pet’s name, we would have an emotional connection to it and therefore, a distraction.
It’s common for people to use traditional Buddhist mantra’s as they rarely have any other meaning outside of meditation practice.
The way a Mantra is used is much the same as any other meditation tool, like the breath or the body. You repeat the mantra in your mind and direct your focus towards it. When you realise your focus has wandered, you just bring it back.
Try to follow along with this mantra meditation. Repeat the mantra with the audio and when its stopped try to continue the repetition without becoming distracted.
- Mantra Meditation
Boundless States Meditation
In this meditation, we’re trying something different. Instead of trying to focus on an object, we’re using our meditation to generate a feeling.
The practice works by using a set of phases, for example.
” May I be peaceful – May I be happy, May I be well – May I be safe, May I be free from suffering.”
We then repeat that phrase with the intention of creating a feeling of love , empathy or compassion and then directing those feeling toward either ourselves or those around us.
If you have tried more focus based techniques, then this might feel strange at first as you’ll leave the session with a different effect; however, the core principle returning concentration when it has wandered still remains.
- Boundless State Meditation