Most people experience thoughts all day long and rarely discover a moment without thoughts.
So naturally, thoughts are one of the biggest distractions during meditation practice.
When we sit down for meditation, we can quickly become overwhelmed as soon as we notice just how many thoughts are whizzing through our minds.
The Buddhists call this “Monkey Mind,” which has been taken to mean any one of the following terms: Unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, fanciful, inconstant, confused, indecisive, and uncontrollable.
Yet quieting the mind is the great aim of meditation practice.
So the question is this: How do we manage our thoughts such that we quiet our minds?
I want to propose two approaches to managing our thoughts, and you must perform both approaches in tandem, as if each approach occupies a separate end of a scale…
Approach #1: Let the Thoughts Come!
Simply allow your thoughts to arise naturally and spontaneously, and avoid imposing any opposition on them. Simply place your awareness on them.
This is because you don’t want to suppress or repress any subconscious or unconscious material. You don’t want anything in the deepest and furthest reaches of your mind to remain stuck, out of your awareness. The only way to access this stuck material is to allow it to flow forth naturally into your awareness.
Let’s say there is a negative memory, a residual impression, in your life that you have repressed, that you have cast outside of your conscious awareness, but that nevertheless exerts a strong influence on your life. The only way to release that memory is to allow is to flow forth during meditation from the deeper parts of your mind.
Approach #2: Let the Thoughts Go!
Simply allow thoughts to disappear of their own accord, and avoid clinging to them.
Penetrate them with laser-like awareness, and eventually they will dissolve.
If you feel tempted to hold onto a thought, like you’re afraid you’ll forget an important idea, just realize that whatever is important stays. If a thought is important, then it will resurface in your mind later on without you prompting it.
But most thoughts are quite unimportant, so we can just allow them to drift away, as if they are little bugs, flowers, or leaves floating on the surface of a stream. Watch the thoughts as you would watch these objects flowing one after another, until they gradually disappear from your view.
To Let Thoughts Come and Go, Imagine You’re the Ticket Taker
One thing that you can do to allow your thoughts to come and go naturally is imagine that you are a ticket taker.
And on this particular day, perhaps you are taking tickets at a theatre performance or a sports game, and your goal is to help everyone pass through the admission.
Now pretend that the thoughts that pass through your mind during meditation are like the tickets of each person that passes through admission during the event.
Your goal is not to stop the people from passing through admission, just as your goal is not to stop thoughts from passing through your mind. Your goal is to acknowledge each thought just as you would acknowledge each person, but as the ticket taker you always say next, next, next, and as the meditator you always think next, next, next.
Once all the people pass through the admission, you are left in peace and silence, and once all the thoughts pass through your mind, you are left in peace and silence. And the goal is always peace and silence.
So for the next seven days this week, and indefinitely as you hopefully proceed throughout your years of meditation practice, imagine that you are the ticket taker, and this will help all your thoughts pass through so you can achieve your goal of silence.