Research proves that meditation makes us happier and calmer. But many of us don’t know what exactly it is. When we first sit down to meditate, we’ll have thoughts hammering us from all directions. We can only make it through the initial stage if we’re patient and know how to handle it.
So, what do you think about when meditating? What should you do with your mind? Mindfulness meditation is not an act of thinking, which means you don’t engage in conscious thought during your practice. You’re only supposed to maintain your concentration on an object (sound, image, or breath). However, certain meditation techniques, such as the loving-kindness, require visualization.
If meditation isn’t about thinking, is it about not thinking? What’s the goal of it? What do you do when thoughts keep flooding your head during the practice? Let’s dive into the topic and answer these questions in detail.
What should I think about while meditating?
Meditation is about training the mind in a certain way. It’s not an act of thinking. So answering the question, you don’t think in meditation. Thoughts will keep flooding you and the mind will keep wandering, but that’s a different thing. You don’t have to consciously think about anything in meditation.
One of the most common techniques is breath meditation. In it, you focus your attention on the sensation of inhalation and exhalations. It could be concentrating on your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly.
Notice we didn’t talk about imagining anything. Breathing takes place continuously, and you’re only supposed to be aware of your breaths.
Similarly in mantra meditation, you concentrate on the repeated sound of the mantra in your head. There’s nothing to think about. You only have to recite the mantra mentally.
Related article: 10 Reasons Why You Should Not Meditate
Meditation is not about stopping thoughts either
A lot of us have misconceptions regarding meditation. We approach it with heavy expectations and leave when they’re not fulfilled. We’ve discussed how meditation is not an act of thinking, but it’s also not an act of stopping your thoughts.
Meditation is not about “turning off” the mind. You’re not supposed to control the mind or your thoughts during the practice. There’s no way you can just close your eyes and think nothing.
Many of us find meditation difficult for this reason alone. We feel that the mind should be empty during our session and wandering thoughts mean we’re doing something wrong. When we find that the mind won’t keep quiet despite all our efforts, we give it up, thinking it’s not for us.
The monkey mind keeps jumping from one branch of thought to another. Be very clear that your mind will stay “on” during your meditation sessions. In fact, in the beginning, it will keep wandering 99% of the time, giving you a moment of concentration here and there.
Now, if meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts, then what’s the point of meditating? Great question! Let’s look at what meditation aims to do.
The point of meditation
Usually, we react as soon as we are stimulated by outer or inner circumstances. Someone abuses us, and we react with anger almost instantly. A random image from our past pops up in the head, and we react with some emotion.
There seems to be almost no gap between the stimulus and our response. The goal of meditation is to create that gap. With meditation, the practitioners aim to raise their mindfulness to a degree that they’re able to recognize thoughts and emotions as they arise.
Let’s say someone abuses you. Now, if you’ve been meditating for a while, you’ll be able to see the anger rise within you. At first, you may notice it only after shouting. But over time, that noticing will precede the anger. You’ll be aware of the anger boiling up, and you’ll be able to let it go.
So, the goal of meditation is not to stop the thought process but to develop mindfulness and make your thoughts work for you. It’s knowing that you’re not your thoughts or emotions, and you can let go of them.
We’ll not be discussing how one reaches enlightenment through meditation, dissolution of the ego, or anything like that. It’s good to keep in mind that these states are possible, but it’s unrealistic to expect to attain them without hours and hours of practice.
What if thoughts bother you during meditation?
You sit down to meditate and close your eyes. Taking a few deep breaths, you focus your attention on the sensation of your breaths. After a few moments, you remember you had decided to call your mom but forgot.
Then starts the train of thought. From mother to laundry to clothes to shops to people to break up to suffering and finally, back to meditation. You realize it has already been five minutes, and you’ve hardly meditated for five seconds.
It’s natural for the mind to wander during your sessions; we can’t control that. So what do we control? Our attention. As soon as we realize that the mind has run away with some thought, we have to gently bring it back.
Again, we shouldn’t expect to fully concentrate on our breath, mantra, etc. for the entire session. That would be unrealistic. We’re training a muscle here. The more we bring the mind back, the better it’ll learn to stick to the object of meditation.
Here’s a hilarious yet appropriate depiction of what most of your sessions, at least in the beginning, will look like:
Although meditation isn’t an act of thinking, there are a few visualization techniques that go along with the traditional sitting practice. One of the most popular is the loving-kindness meditation. It helps us cultivate compassion toward other beings using visualization.
There are two major ways to practice it:
- Loving-kindness: In this practice, we bring images of different people to the mind: people we like; people we don’t. The aim is to send them kind thoughts of compassion (and perhaps forgiveness).
- Skillful compassion: Here, we imagine that we’re breathing in the pain and difficulties of other people while breathing out kindness and positivity for them. In this way, we place the happiness of others before ourselves in this meditation.
I’ve included this practice because it’s where you have to actively imagine situations and people to meditate on them.
If you would like to learn more about loving-kindness meditation, here’s an excellent guided meditation on YouTube:
We’ve talked about several things in this article. Here’s a quick summary of everything we’ve discussed:
- Meditation is not an act of thinking. You don’t have to think about anything in meditation.
- Meditation is also not an act of stopping our thoughts. Your mind will stay “on” during your practice.
- Meditation aims to create a gap between stimulus and response. It’s being able to recognize thoughts and emotions as they arise and let go of them.
- It’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander during meditation. When you realize that the mind has wandered off, gently bring it back to the object of meditation and continue your practice.
- Some meditation techniques, such as loving-kindness, require visualization. In it, we either imagine other people and send them compassion or breathe in the pain of others while exhaling kindness.
If you have any queries or comments, leave them below, and I will respond.
Good luck and happy meditating! 😊