How to handle thoughts in meditation?
Indian teachings call it the "monkey mind," that continual inner chatter, going from one thought to another with hardly a pause. How can we stop it? Simply telling it to stop doesn't seem to help. You may succeed for a moment or two, but it is soon back taking us away on some other thought,
If meditation is about the mind becoming still, then the monkey mind would seem to be its biggest enemy.
I've been caught in this myself at times, when it seems impossible to stop thoughts in meditation, and wish they weren't there.
So how do we handle thoughts in meditation? Actually meditation is not about stopping thoughts, it's about not following them. Whereas in daily life our attention wanders from one idea to another, in meditation when you realize you've been caught in a thought, accept the fact. Don't judge or blame yourself. It happens—even to the most experienced meditators. Just pause the thought, don't follow it any further. Let it go and gently shift your attention back to your experience in the present moment. That may be the thought of a mantra, the sensation of the breath, or perhaps a visual image, or feeling of love in the heart..
And then, let the attention rest in that experience. Don't try to concentrate or hold it there. Ah yes, you will be sure to wander off again. But the practice is not trying to stay present, but learning how to return to the present. If you wander off a hundred times, that is a hundred opportunities to practice gently returning your attention to the present. And you will find that gradually the mind settles down of its own accord. Thoughts may still come, but they become less and less of a disturbance.
Would you like more articles like this on how to get more from your meditation practice?
Sign up for my meditation mailing list.