We have to be careful not to think that meditation is about getting rid of thoughts. On the contrary, I would say that meditation helps us to creatively engage with our thoughts and not fixate on them. When people say they cannot concentrate, I say, “No, no, no! You are concentrating—too much on any one thought!”
It is interesting in meditation to notice all the different places where our thoughts lead us—what distracts us and what occupies our minds. It is important to notice these things in meditation because these will be the same things that occupy our minds in daily life. As we become more familiar with our thoughts in meditation, we will see how repetitive our thoughts are. We often think very similar things over and over again and it is actually rare to have what I would call a creative, original thought.
What I recommend is to follow the breath, or let sounds be the object of your concentration [see here], or try body-awareness meditation. Then ask yourself, Where did I go? When I was distracted, what did I do? And then you can see that you have many different types of thoughts, which generally fall into three categories: light, intense, and habitual.
Often we try to work with our thoughts only when they reach a high level of intensity. By then I would say it is too late, because they are already so strong and so powerful that it is very hard to work with them. The only thing we can do when we are really caught in heavy, obsessive thoughts is to realize the cause—maybe something happened and you are upset. Just be careful not to feed the intensity. I think that meditation practices can help here. For example, when coming back to the breath time after time, if you’re really obsessive then you’ll eventually notice, “Oh, I’m obsessive.” Then try to come back to the breath just a little bit, just for a few seconds. Then keep coming back. This may not remove the intensity of the thoughts completely, but at least their intensity will diminish, and generally the thoughts won’t last as long.
As we meditate, we become more aware of the habitual nature of our thoughts. I think of this level as consisting of the mental grooves that our thoughts habitually follow. Meditation helps us break free of these habitual patterns and unleash the original and creative power of thought.
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