In a recent Osho meditation workshop I held, I had a few of the participants come up to me at the end and say, “I just can’t seem to stop my thoughts!” This has come up over and over again in classes I teach and conversations I have regarding meditation. That we believe we should be able to stop thinking. And we drive ourselves crazy when we can’t! This happened to me much of the time in the beginning stages of my meditation practice. I’d go to the teacher and say, “What is this? What’s the point of all of this?” And she’d say, “Just keep meditating and you’ll see.”
The statement “I can’t stop thinking” beautifully reveals a belief system that we as humans function with. It inherently shows to us that we think we have control over our thoughts. That we are the controller. It has us believe that we can stop our thoughts, which also points to a belief that we also create all of our thoughts. What I’ve found over time is that I have NO idea how thoughts get planted into my brain. Sure, it has something to do with the input that goes into my system – if I watch a tv series, hear a song, read a book, have a conversation – then my thoughts will be influenced. But I am not actively creating my thoughts. To me, thought streams seem more like a satellite dish, picking up different channels, different ideas, concepts. Many meditation teachers will say thoughts are like clouds in a blue sky. Well, if we look at clouds, they appear based on the weather conditions, and they move and change, come and go. Thinking of ourselves as the creator of thoughts, or the destroyer of thoughts, puts us in a very narrow, conflicting space. We are self-identifying with our thoughts, getting upset with ourselves that we can’t turn our brain off! And that’s the loop – sitting and “trying” to meditate, holding a weapon to ourselves and our thoughts when they won’t stop, getting agitated and angry.
So if I’m not supposed to stop thinking, then what is meditation and how do I meditate!?
I recently heard Alan Watts define meditation as getting in touch with reality. Reality exists outside of thinking. So, in a way, meditation is about not thinking, but not in the way of stopping thoughts, in the way of how we relate to the thoughts. Ahhh, love these subtleties! If we are not the creator nor the destroyer of thoughts, then what are we? I like to relate to the thinking process as an engager, or a viewer. When thoughts come through my channels, I have a choice to engage in them or not. Often in our lives, we are engaging constantly with our mind, without it feeling like a choice. That’s why when we first start meditating, we see how crazy it is in our head! We see the market place that exists, all of these thoughts, and we’re getting hooked by most of them! And then, slowly, slowly, we start to see that we have a choice in how we relate to our thoughts. That we don’t have to actually think about every thought. That the thoughts are truly clouds passing by, and when we feel we’re getting caught up, it’s because we’ve been hooked by a thought and are now engaging in it. It’s kind of like our own soap opera, especially with the thoughts that are more seductive, the thoughts that just love to come round and round and be pondered and engaged with.
We love to get strung along by whatever dramas are coming up in our thoughts, and the power of meditation, is that we realize they are not real, and we come back to what is real, aka presence. We release the thought. Pema Chödrön recommends that when we get caught in a thought process we note to ourselves “thinking” and that actually disempowers the thoughts and removes us from that hook. In this one, small action, of identifying thoughts as different from ourselves, when we see that we are not the thoughts, and we have the free will to let the thought go, we become empowered, or rather, we become free. We are released from being the doer of thinking. So it’s not that we’re stopping our thoughts, it’s that we are relating differently to our thoughts. When I find presence in meditation, there are still thoughts passing by, but I’m not engaging with them. So in a way, I can “stop thinking” but thoughts are still arising and falling. It’s similar to a car alarm going off. We can either get incredibly angry and wrecked that it’s so noisy and won’t shut off or we can merely not engage with it. We hear the car alarm and it’s just happening without us becoming emotionally reactive to it.
Many meditation advocates will market the benefits of meditation as stress reducing, focus enhancing, blah blah blah. Meditation is most definitely a tool for me to move through my own shit into what is real, into connection with life’s flow, it does enhance my creativity, and I do experience many benefits from the tool. And I can in no way promise any benefits to anyone. When we sit to meditate, we start to become aware of aspects of ourselves that we never saw before. We turn inwards and start to learn our internal landscape, which many of us were never taught to do. And in this, it can be an incredibly awakening and destructive process. For me, it is just this, awakening and destructive, painful and illuminating. I want to know what’s real, and I see that so much of what I’ve learned is not real at all, and though that can be scary at times, I at least know how to come home, over and over again, come home to myself, come home to this moment, come home to what is real.
As my teacher said, “Just keep meditating.” None of these words have meaning until they are experienced. For those of us whose minds are busy, busy, give my short meditation below a try. Or if you’re ready to plunge deep and you feel you have the tools, set a timer and sit.