How to Stop Thinking

I write about meditation a lot. One of the common question I hear people ask is "how do I stop thinking?" To answer that, you have to know what causes thinking. By studying your own thoughts you can learn a lot.

When you have a thought you aren't usually aware you're having a thought. You don't realize "wow, another thought is happening!" What usually ends up happening is you find yourself completely absorbed in a thought (or thoughts) towards the middle, maybe 10 seconds into it. For some people it takes much longer because they don't realize they're absorbed at all--they think it's natural. There are people, I'm sure, have never noticed how completely absorbed in thought they are at all times. You can identify these people because they're chaotic and miserable.

When you meditate--when you just watch what already happening inside you without excessive commenting--you start to become more aware of the fact that you're absorbed in thought. And as you become aware, the power of those thoughts diminish.

If you pay even close attention you can start to see how these thoughts develop and what they're composed of. It's not just mental activity. It's also emotional activity and body activity. All this thinking happens because you're agitated and disturbed and you're disturbed because you've secretly harboring all sorts of agendas. The agenda could be anything, but it's always self-related. How do I overcome x? How do I succeed in y? What will I say to this person? All of tasks will drive thought after thought.

One of the most tricky agendas is "how do I meditate?" This is very common for (duh) meditators. (Disclaimer: some meditation is agenda-driven, but the meditation I'm talking about, some techniques in Zen, silent illumination, or what Adyashanti calls "true meditation," are not.) How does this drive thought? It creates an expectation of where you're supposed to get to and that triggers the narrative in your head. When you have a specific idea of what meditation is, you begin making discriminations in your mind. You see your thoughts and you say "I'm not meditating right. No thoughts, no thoughts, no thoughts..." When you feel agitated, you might say "Why am I so agitated? Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful." And sometimes you just feel blah and you think "How can I fix this? Maybe I should breathe more carefully. No, that's not--hm." All this thinking is tied to agenda.

So here's the irony. If you want to stop thinking, stop trying to not think. That's right. Because your trying to not think is fueling your mind and keeping you agitated. It's okay to have a thought. It's okay to feel blah. It's okay to feel unspiritual. Giving yourself this permission will slowly start to calm your mind and body and you'll soon see moments of clarity and silence.

We're going to pick up with a new question on Monday. Any questions can be emailed to Thanks for reading. Feedback appreciated always.