The most common misconception about meditation is that you need to clear your mind of all thoughts in order to mediate. Or the misleading expectation that meditation can lead to the emptiness of the mind.
Many people who start meditating got stuck in their progress because and some lose faith as they found that the more they try to suppress their thoughts, the louder it gets.
Meditation is learning to be at peace with your thoughts.
I was talking about how some people find it hard to meditate in my previous post and I got an interesting comment from a reader.
This part of her comment caught my attention :
“I have read ‘clear your mind of all thoughts’ in several yoga/meditation books and that frustrates me because like you said, I would have to be dead.”
I’ve had my fair share of frustration when I started learning meditation. Although that was a long time ago, I know how important it is to receive the proper instruction before you start meditating.
Although I’m not a meditation guru myself, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not possible to just clear our mind of all thoughts. We will always have thoughts as long as we are breathing. And I told Tessa so.
But then, I could be wrong too as I’m not a seasoned meditator as some of the experts. So I decided to get their thoughts on this matter. I emailed some of the most experienced meditators and here are what they said.
Meditation is the effort to manage your attention. If we are talking about concentration meditation, then it means the effort to bring your attention back again and again to the same object. As a result of this, the mind gets “cleared” off all other thoughts and impressions.
On the other hand, if a person tries to “clear his mind of thoughts”, the result will be frustration and failure. It doesn’t work like that.
So “emptying the mind” is more a result of a deepening in the practice, rather than the instruction of how to meditate. Hence the confusion.
Put it simply as ” clearing thoughts is not possible – it would be like stopping your heart or lungs.”
And he shared one of his video that explains it beautifully. Check out Living With Your Monkey Mind.
And if you are wondering what “Monkey Mind” is all about, here’s another video worth watching.
Bill Scheinman shared a snippet from one of his posts
It’s a common misconception that when we meditate one of our goals should be to have a blank mind, without any thoughts in it. Unfortunately the mind doesn’t tend to cooperate.
One of the more humbling aspects of meditation is the recognition that we can’t really control our thoughts. They tend to come and go rather randomly. If we try to get rid of our thoughts, essentially trying to do the impossible, we place ourselves in a contentious and aversive relationship to our minds. We are being unkind to ourselves.
What we can control, however, is how we relate to our thoughts. Rather than trying to get rid of our thoughts, we should aim to notice how they appear and disappear, and what mental habit patterns they reveal.
When we see the transitory nature of our thoughts, and the thought patterns that drive our behavior for good or ill, we see that we have a choice about which thoughts to follow and which to let go of.
Clearing your mind of all thoughts is a tall order, even for highly experienced meditators. I view meditation as a process of allowing our mind to calm down. How much it calms down during meditation depends on various factors, such as how long we meditate, unresolved personal issues, and how agitated our mind is to begin with.
I think it is counterproductive to advise people to clear their mind of all thoughts. This is unachievable for most people, especially beginning meditators. With such high expectations, beginners will get frustrated and quit meditating very quickly.
It has to be understood that this is a stated goal and requires a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight so people shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.
So simply being told clear your mind..isn’t going to be very helpful, especially if there is a belief system in place that believes it is difficult or even impossible.
It’s very misguided to advise people to ‘clear your mind of all thoughts’, especially when you’re living a busy life.Thoughts are a ubiquitous part of the human experience and the only way the mind will ever fall completely mute is if it is experiencing total bliss. There are techniques to achieve that, one of which is what we teach ourselves. The mistake most people in this space are making is thinking that they will achieve bliss if they clear their mind, but in actual fact it’s the other way round.
“Clear your mind” can be thorny instructions because then the students is trying not to think, which usually just makes us think more or start to worry about thinking. I prefer to tell students to remain present by paying attention to what they are hearing, smelling, etc. That includes thinking. Thoughts aren’t inherently bad; it’s our relationship to them that gets complicated. We believe the contents of the thoughts instead of just seeing them for what they are–momentary flashes of mental phenomena.Thoughts makes a great servant but a terrible master. As a way to confront the intrusion of thoughts, I would suggest asking, “Who is the one thinking?” This results in a sense of open unknowing where thoughts are free to appear and vanish unhindered.
There is no way of clearing your mind of thoughts literally. However, meditation teaches you how to be at peace with your mind by being aware yet unattached to your thoughts. (That’s what mindfulness is all about)
With that said, it takes certain months or years of practice to be adept at the skill of mindfulness. That brings the role of Guided Meditation to complement conventional meditation. Helen Vella, a holistic life coach, found it easier for a guided meditation to keep stray thoughts at bay.
Guided meditation or not, you just can’t clear your mind of all thoughts as long as you are breathing. But it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy peace and calmness from it.
P.S. – I want to thank all these great experienced meditation teachers for selflessly sharing their thoughts on this post.
Over To You :
Have you started meditation with the intention of clearing your mind of all thoughts? Are you frustrated when you find that you can’t?
I am an engineer-turned-writer who once struggle with social anxiety. After overcoming problems inflicted by low self-esteem and the fear of interaction, I realize the need for taking a holistic approach in developing our mind. I'm sharing my experience, remedies, and techniques that interest me in my quest to be a better self.
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