We don't need no thought control.
One of the biggest problems that people have with meditation is that they can’t deal with all the thoughts that seem to crowd into their mind. We’ve all experienced how overwhelming a busy mind can be. When you close your eyes things can get very loud in there. Your mind starts racing, cooking up “to do” lists, re-writing conversations that you had yesterday, listing the food in your refrigerator or scolding yourself for not remembering a friend’s birthday. This is definitely not the calming, zen experience that you signed up for.
This disappointment comes from the expectation that you are supposed to have no thoughts during meditation. Some meditation instructors actually ask you to clear your mind of thoughts. Have you ever tried to clear your mind of thoughts? It feels like the harder you try, the more impossible it is. That’s because it is impossible.
Having thoughts during meditation doesn’t mean that you can’t meditate, it doesn’t mean that the meditation isn’t working or that you’ve failed some kind of zen test. Having thoughts during meditation just means one thing. You’re human. Your mind secretes thoughts naturally, just like certain glands secrete saliva.
Part of the process of meditation is noticing any thoughts that come up and being okay with them, not judging them, not pushing them away, or blocking them, but just gently observing them and then bringing your attention back to the meditation object (whether it’s the breath, sensations in the body or a mantra).
This attitude of acceptance to whatever comes up is a form of compassion that you are showing yourself. The moment that you start judging your thoughts you get sucked into them or drawn into conflict with them. The realisation that you don’t need to control your thoughts in any way, that you can just observe them come and go, without getting caught up in them, can bring you a lot of freedom.
When you can sit and be aware of thoughts coming and going, sensations in the body arising and falling and emotions and emotional states arriving and leaving, it teaches you a lot about your true nature. If you are aware of your thoughts, sensations and emotions, that must mean that you are separate from your thoughts, sensations and emotions. You start to identify less with these aspects of your mind and rest in the loving awareness that is your true nature. And as you identify less with thoughts, they lose their power. You watch them come and go, like leaves falling off a tree or waves in the ocean. When you stop trying to control your thoughts, they stop controlling you.
Meditation isn’t a self-improvement project. You’re not striving to get to some magic “less than 5 thoughts per minute” ratio. It’s about self-acceptance, seeing thing as they really are and learning to break down our habitual thought patterns that try to push away the things that we judge to be bad and cling to what we judge to be good. When we start to see who we truly are, this awareness or consciousness that is our true nature, we realise that we don’t need to be controlled or changed. For we are all already perfect.