Does mediation really mean emptying the mind of the thoughts?
Many people have this idea that meditation is all about emptying the mind. Meaning not having thoughts or completely stopping the thoughts.
People believe meditation means the clearing of the mind, so that it doesn’t have any thoughts.
There is some truth to this notion doghint that as your meditation evolves, you approach the state of an empty mind. You will eventually be able to stop the thoughts. Not completely but up to a great extent you will be able to prevent the thoughts. You will cut the number of thoughts you may normally have.
In essence, something like the emptying of the mind does happen with very long term meditation practice.
But if you are just beginning your meditation practice, it does not help you to approach the practice from the perspective that you have to completely empty your mind. It does not help, embarking on meditation thinking that you have to really try and force and empty your mind using sheer willpower. It especially hurts to try doing this from the beginning of the practice.
You should really not have this emptying approach. Because if you were to try that, you will soon find yourself extremely frustrated. Because it just doesn’t work. Our minds are so much used to having thoughts or thinking. If you just attempt to suppress thoughts, it is not going to work. Suppressing the thoughts is not the best method to reduce them.
I did say that in the long run we are going to decrease the number of thoughts that we have. But if you begin your practice with the goal of not having thoughts, you will inevitably try to suppress the thoughts and it will not work.
It is not the best method to achieve the meditation goal. This in a way necessitates the guidance of an expert meditation teacher. During the initial phases of the practice you want to take help from someone who has professional experience.
Or at least a long meditation experience. Someone, who knows the in and out of the meditation and has been meditating for many years. A person has to have a personal intensive daily practice of at least 5 years, before he or she would qualify to be a teacher. This is required in order to really begin to understand the skill.
In short, it is imperative that you pick a good teacher.
Why it is hazardous to have this mindset of meditation as emptying of the mind? At least in the beginning of the practice? It is hazardous because it will interfere with your practice and may cause you to get frustrated and stop the practice.
If that is the case, what should one do? One should completely drop the idea of emptying of the mind. It may sound counterintuitive. But just completely drop the idea. Because any hint of this idea, even the minutest amount of striving to suppress the thoughts will just backfire and come in your way of the practice and hinder you.
You should really approach the practice of meditation from the perspective of improving the concentration. Do not think of emptying the mind and getting rid of the thoughts, but think of improving your attention and your concentration.
Let’s explore why this matters and why the suggestion. In essence, with meditation our long term goal is to empty the mind of unhelpful thoughts. Not get rid of all the thoughts. We have to have certain thoughts, we cannot live without thoughts. We have to plan for the future, we have to remember and analyze what happened in the past. At least up to a certain extent.
This may sound confusing. You may have learned that the mediation is all about being in the present, not living in the past and not living in the future. You may ask now, where does the necessity of planning and remembering come from?
In fact it is the goal of meditation that we are in the present moment and as much as we can, we don’t dream or think about the past or the future. We want to experience the present moment completely.
We want to increase the experiences, where we are completely immersed in the present moment. This truly is the hallmark of meditation, the fundamental basis of the meditation practice.
We humans easily lend ourselves to idealistic thinking. We easily jump over to visualizing the extreme situations. To get by our daily routines of our lives, it is essential that we remember some of the past experiences.
We have to remember the lessons of the past and not repeat our mistakes. We want to minimize the pain by doing this. We want to minimize the pain to us and pain to the people around us. Hence there are things to remember.
The emphasis on the present moment doesn’t imply complete stopping of the thoughts. You can’t do that. You still need to think. When you are aware of your thinking about the past, even the thinking about the past becomes, being in the present moment.
It may now make sense to you that emptying the mind of thoughts is same as being in the present moment. But the suggestion to drop the idea of emptying the thoughts may seem counterintuitive at first.
But in reality it is not counterintuitive at all, when you think about it. Whenever you begin your practice, you will have all these questions. You should have all the questions. Think through all of them and you should be asking questions to your teacher. And in the spirit of asking questions, we are discussing the topic.
We want to drop the thoughts, but which ones? Not all of them. We want to drop discursive thoughts. If you try to observe yourself carefully, you would realize that you have so many thoughts all the time. Most of them are pretty much useless. They actually exacerbate the difficult situation that you may have. Most of your thoughts really don’t help you.
Although it is extremely hard to quantify, I would venture to guess that only 10 to 20% of your thoughts are helpful thoughts. These thoughts actually make sense. They help you improve your well-being and the well-being of people around you.
But majority of thoughts are either neutral or they hurt you. The idea behind meditation is to exactly drop those thoughts and not all thoughts. Just drop the discursive thoughts.
Nothing about human behavior is black and white. It is all shades of gray. Everything about human behavior falls within a range or spectrum.
One should not have the illusion or naive idea that one is supposed to drop all the thoughts. It doesn’t take much common sense to realize this. The whole idea of dropping thoughts really arises from this goal of dropping discursive thoughts.
Now this becomes a difficult question. How do I drop just the useless thoughts? The thoughts that don’t help me. It turns out, if you want to do that, there is no easy way to suppress them through pure will.
You can become aware of your thoughts from time to time. But it is extremely difficult to be completely aware of all your thoughts and pick and choose which ones to carry on and which ones to drop.
Ironically when you begin to practice meditation you start to develop this skill of being able to selectively pick and choose thoughts. You start developing the skill that you don’t intend to! That is why people get into the loop here. If you are not supposed to empty the mind and the practice of meditation itself is supposed to lead to emptying of mind over time then how is it possible? It is like a chicken and the egg problem.
But it really doesn’t have to be. As long as you approach the whole idea of meditation as improving attention and concentration, it just makes sense and becomes easy to follow and put into practice. It may not be that difficult to understand that one of the ways, to not have that many wandering thoughts, is to be completely focused on the task at hand.
Let’s say you are cooking and cutting vegetables. If you can be completely focused on this activity, you will have the pure experience of cutting vegetables. Which may be delightful in itself, at least for some of us.
But we usually don’t have this experience. If you are completely focused on the activity, you can have the raw experience. Usually it is clouded in the veils of the thoughts. If you can keep up the focus, you minimize the chances of your having thoughts that are not relevant at least for the short amount of time.
When you fully engage in the activity of chopping vegetables, the engagement can help you not have all different types of thoughts. Basically you pick an activity and you divert your thinking capacity to the experience of just that activity. This in itself will help you not have the wandering thoughts.
And with regular and disciplined training, you will keep improving this skill. You will have more and more instances of experiences, where you are completely focused on the activity at hand. Completely immersed just in the experience of the activity at hand.
And over the long run, you may be able to pretty much empty your mind of all the wandering thoughts!!
Now you can see, how if start the meditation practice with the intention of improving attention or the concentration, rather than emptying the mind, it will lead to a smoother progression of our practice and achievement of the goal.
Rene Doumal is a writer with expertise in mindfulness and meditation. You can check out his latest website How to Reap Miraculous Meditation Benefits [http://www.meditationbenefits.org//], where he provides details, guided meditations and step by step advice about how to learn meditation, how to cultivate mindfulness and how to reduce stress, anxiety, worry, depression and promote better health and well being.