Practice observing your thoughts instead of getting caught up in them
There’s a myth (or misunderstanding) about mindfulness meditation that you’re supposed to empty the mind of thoughts — that if thoughts come up during meditation, you’re not doing it right. Not so! The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to practice the art of intentional focus. And that focus can be whatever you want it to be. In meditation, we can make our wandering thoughts the actual focus of meditation — a practice called “intentional mind wandering.” We can allow thoughts to flow, and observe them coming and going.
I’m a licensed mental health counselor who enjoys sharing mindful meditations and information about mindfulness. Below is a transcript of a teaching and meditation I led on this topic, and at the end of the article, you’ll find a link to the meditation video. In this guided meditation, I start the meditation with a little bit of teaching and then we get into a meditative practice. As I often do, I offer a metaphor you can use to assist you in this realization that there’s a part of you that can do something (thinking) and part of you that can notice that action (observing).
The idea here is that we are learning to work with our thoughts. In mindfulness meditation, a lot of what we’re doing is building this skill to have a little bit of distance between the phenomena that upset us (or distract us or keep us from doing what we’re trying to do) and ourselves.
We’re learning to understand that there’s a part of us that does things, and there’s a part of us that can observe or be aware of doing those things. Part of what gets us tripped up is that if we’re not aware of that difference — if we’re not building that skill to be able to observe something as it’s happening — we get so caught up in the doing of it that we don’t do it effectively or we kind of get carried away. We’re not fully present with the life that we’re trying to live.
A lot of times with mindfulness meditation, we’re doing something like breathing and noticing the sensation of the breath. There’s the part of us that breathes, and there’s the part of us that observes the breath.