The most common thing I hear from people who are hesitant about trying meditation is, “But I think too much.”
What I usually say back is, “We all do.”
We all think too much. Wandering thoughts are estimated to occupy 30 to 50 percent of our waking hours. And we all think we think too much.
Every time I notice my mind wandering from the present moment during meditation, I think something like: Why can’t I stay focused? I should be more mindful. Maybe I should start meditating two times a day.
I’ve been meditating every day for years and I still criticize myself for not being a good meditator. Every time.
It’s only when I notice the self-criticism as yet another distraction that I’m able to let go of the thoughts and bring my attention back to my breath or hands or the sound of the heat vent.
Eventually, the self-critical thoughts—the shoulds and shouldn’ts—seem less convincing and even a little boring. They’re as ordinary as an itch on my wrist or the sound of a truck passing outside.
As I settle into an accepting state of mind, I’m less whipped around by thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. It feels like I’m resting at the center of my experience, witnessing the entirety of the present moment.
My mind still wanders, but I’m less inclined to add the self-criticism on top. Instead, I smile inside. There it goes again. Isn’t it so cute? Come back over this way, mind, towards paying attention to the sensations of the air entering and leaving my nose.
Think of your mind as a puppy. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you know that yelling and yanking its leash doesn’t work. Getting it to come requires a gentle touch and lots of treats.
Learning how to recognize and let go of self-critical thoughts has been the most transformative aspect of my meditation practice. Being gentle with myself has helped me kick a nasty caffeine habit, get closer with family members, and so much more.
When we’re not resisting our experience, we can access the feelings of peace and contentment that are always available no matter how scattered our mind is. We’re more prone to responding to what’s required in the moment rather than reacting out of habit. We’re more aware of our choices, the inner freedom that no circumstances can ever take away from us.
We all think too much, and we all think we think too much. Don’t let that stop you from trying meditation or meditating more often. In fact, embrace it.
Free ebook on mindfulness meditation
My ebook, How to Get Out of Your Head, will help you start or stick with a regular meditation practice. Get it for free here.
Listen to my podcast Meditation for the 99%
On Meditation for the 99%, I take meditation out of faraway monasteries, expensive retreat centers, and Corporate America, and bring it to work, relationships, and, especially, politics. Listen everywhere podcasts are available.