Three tips for whenever the mind takes over during meditation

Jason Henry
Apr 24 · 4 min read
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

The first time you meditate feels like walking through a desert and finally finding an oasis. You learn just how potent an overactive mind can be and you begin to drink in the essence of your self and the moment as it is.

Unfortunately, for many of us, this oasis starts to feel boring. The seamless discipline that we once had is gone and now it’s a fight to not only ignore the mind but to even want to meditate.

The ego wants to protect you and itself, so it engages you in thought after thought after thought. That’s very sweet of it but we have the experience to back up that it is not very good at its job because it sees threats that aren’t actually there and makes us freak out for no good reason.

Here are some tips for the next time we meditate and our attention gets stolen by the mind.

1. Place your attention on the mind

Right off the bat, this seems counter-intuitive, but here me out. Typically, we are told to place our attention on our breathing. That works well but it will eventually become routine, which is the perfect time for the mind to chat about the catering for Sheila’s bat mitzvah four months from now.

A curious thing happened when one day I decided to just place my attention on my head instead of my breathing. You could place your attention on your head, brain or your mind, whichever, but what happened was that the mind went silent. It was like lifting the curtain on a chatty critic backstage. It was like my mind had stage fright. He had the open floor to speak but was remarkably quiet.

It made me question the nature of the mind. The mind/ego doesn’t want to be center-stage. It wants to be a critic, not a creator. It wants to play it safe, not actually air out its grievances because then it would be put under scrutiny. It wants to be proven right but isn’t courageous enough to potentially be wrong.

Or perhaps the mind just wants some attention and will talk about literally anything just so that you will look at it. It would be a mistake to hate the mind or to ignore it, because it is a part of you or a part of your experience here on Earth. No sense in fighting it or snubbing it.

2. Listen

Another great way to silence the mind is to simply listen to whatever sound comes up in your environment. The whirring of a refrigerator, birds chirping, or even the crinkle of gravel under your feet if on a walking meditation, paying attention to the sounds around us does not give rise to mind chatter.

This could be because by paying attention to all sounds, you must be paying attention to the sound of the inner dialogue. As I said before, the mind doesn’t seem to love being in the spotlight; it works in the dark. Once light is shone on it, it and its opinions vanish.

3. Accept the mind

You may decide to meditate with your attention on your breath, your heart, on a candle, when doing chores or on your environment. All of these are awesome but they may invite the mind to pop back in to tell you inane or even slightly hurtful things, such as you cancelling your subscription to Men’s Health because you’re not in shape anyway.

What you resist, persists. There is no benefit in having a tug-of-war with the mind because it is like having a tug-of-war with a part of yourself. Can you imagine pulling your left arm while resisting it at the same time? You’ll probably dislocate it.

Therefore, if we can agree and accept that the mind is designed to be chatty and not debate or hate on why it is the way it is, we’ll do ourselves a world of good.

The mind is a tool but for many of us it’s like a chainsaw gone rogue. You didn’t turn it on, it cuts through everything in its path and even when you catch it and turn it off, it turns itself back on and repeats the process.

But let’s face it. We need that chainsaw. When we wield it, it cuts through our problems — not all, but some. However, if it is running amok, we have to accept reality. Hating on it only gives it more power.

What meditation does is that it returns us to ourselves and we stop identifying with the mind. As director David Lynch wrote, “The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.” You learn that you are not the mind, you are not the tool; you’re the one wielding the tool.

Jason Henry

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“By your stumbling the world is perfected.”