What to do with Your Thoughts during Meditation


It is an ongoing question and concern amongst anyone who has ever meditated or attempted a meditation practice in their lives: How can you meditate, i.e., sit there with an empty mind, when the whole time throughout the practice your monkey mind keeps thinking of utmost nonsense or obsessing over every thought that comes up? What do you, the meditator, do with racing thoughts during meditation?

Here’s a quick breakdown of this universal issue and a couple of tips that will help you around it.

This article will teach you:

  • how to work with and accept obsessive thoughts while meditating

  • to stop judgement on yourself for having a Monkey Mind

  • that having a Monkey Mind or obsessive thinking is normal in any spiritual and meditation practice

  • the reason we have obsessive and racing thoughts

It is not much of a secret that in adapting the teachings and practices of Eastern philosophies, Westerners often omit sizeable chunks and selectively take out what they can fit in their quick-paced modern lifestyles. Western societies often lean towards quick fixes and immediate solutions to our problems; if we can’t change a certain situation to our liking, we either abandon the gesture all together or wallow in our own illusion of failure. All because we couldn’t change our circumstances with a swish-and-flick of the magic meditation wand.

This mindset is misleading, allowing us to regard meditation as some super effective hocus-pocus that cures our stress and mental health problems as soon as we close our eyes — then, to our dismay, frustration lays in within seconds. We took the time out of our day to do something good, to do our daily mindfulness practice, we really wanted to commit to it — but the whole time our brain keeps bombarding us with the most random thoughts, and no matter how many times you say “Okay, for real now, cut it out. Empty your mind, think of nothing…” after 10 seconds your brain goes, “Would I rather have a horse-sized duck or a duck-sized horse?”

So here’s the deal: brain’s gonna keep braining. You can’t prevent this. Telling your brain to think of nothing is like coming up to someone and saying, “Hey, listen, don’t think of a white elephant, okay? Whatever you do, just do not think about the white elephant.” As a result, that the person could only think about the white elephant exactly because they have to keep telling themselves not to.

Photo by Reth Ferguson / Pexels

Meditating isn’t about switching off the power button to your brain. A common fallacy in the Western perception of thinking during meditation is that they see it as an ailment that prevents one from meditating. It’s like, “I could meditate so well if only I could stop thinking.” In reality, thinking and your attitude towards your busy brain is an integral part of the meditation process. In other words, part of your meditation practice is about welcoming these thoughts, sensations, and brain activity. When we get upset with ourselves for having a Monkey Mind and active thinking, we then attach ourselves to those racing thoughts as a result. These attachments are what will dull your spiritual awareness and practice, not the thoughts themselves.

Once you sit down to meditate, you want to calm down and empty your mind. Besides a good posture and finding a mindful, yet comfortable position, the first thing you need to do is to acknowledge the fact that thoughts will keep coming to you. They just will.

Whether you’re Dalai Lama or an average Jane, thoughts will come, because you can’t leave your brain on the doorstep before you sit down to meditate. It is crucial that you accept this gently and not criticize yourself as bad at or incapable of meditating because of it.

Portrait of an Ape | © Rob Schreckhise / Unsplash

Instead of giving up, once a thought arises and you catch yourself straying away, calmly recognize “I am thinking again” or “A thought has arisen” or “There I go thinking again” and mindfully go back to being aware of your breath, mantra, or other anchor.


Next time you catch your mind wandering or attaching to a thought while meditating try one or both of these visualizations:

  • Visualize your thoughts as a monkey who jumps around you when you want to be calm. When it strays, ask it “What are you doing, monkey brain?” Take it by the hand and gently guide it back to sit down next to you.

  • Visualize your racing thoughts as a potter or sculptor sitting at her Potters Wheel that spinning around and around — similar to your racing thoughts. And when your awareness notices these thoughts, visualize the Potter stopping the Potter’s Wheel and taking a rest.

Black and white pottery | © Quino Al / Unsplash

The practice of meditation is precisely about training your concentration like a muscle by continuously going through the cycle of focusing on the breath, losing the focus, recognizing you strayed away and slowly guiding yourself back to the awareness of the breath. That’s all there is to it, no overthinking needed. That is exactly what meditation is.

One objective behind meditation and other spiritual practices such as yoga is finding harmony between the mind, the body and the spirit, as well as realizing that they do not make up the final limits of the self. Understanding that you are more than your mental and physical makeup could help you detach yourself (the spirit) from the thoughts (the mind) and twitches, sensations, or physical discomfort (the body) while meditating.

Photo By Cliff Booth / Pexels

Meditation nurtures and cultivates our awareness, our knowing, that we are more than our bodies and we are more than our mind — racing thoughts and all. We are meant to understand that we are more than our mind, therefore our racing thoughts arise to remind us of that knowing.

The concept that although your mind and body constitute the physical boundaries of “you”, your spirit transcends this individuality and connects you to the larger picture in which you can identify with something powerful beyond your mind and body.

Repeating the following mantra helps this detachment:

  • Follow every inhale with “I am not my monkey mind” and exhale with “I am not my fragile body.” While repeating this mantra, visualize your spirit being everything beyond your body: visualize, attempt to feel as if you were the air, the sun, the water, the sounds of nature or silence around you.

Above all, never get discouraged by your racing thoughts and think that meditation isn’t for you. It’s for everyone that can breathe in and out. Hopefully, these tips can help you on your mindfulness journey.



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