When thinking nothing just feels impossible

Nicole Shephard
Aug 18 · 3 min read
Photo by Couleur

Full disclosure: I’m no expert on meditation. And I suspect neither are most people who (try to) meditate. We meditate because other people meditate, because the latest self-help book recommends integrating meditation into our lives, because we want to feel the myriad benefits of meditation. Meditation reduces stress, increases focus and productivity, lowers blood pressure, and helps with anxiety and depression, among many, many other benefits. Meditation even rewires our brains.

But meditating is more difficult than it looks. What it means to meditate well depends on which teacher, book, app or podcast you ask. What many well-meaning guides have in common, however, is that meditation has something to do with emptying our mind. And with focusing on our breath, preferably while thinking nothing.

Meanwhile thoughts happen, feelings happen and resistance happens on repeat. In fact, meditation at first feels a lot like an opportunity to become aware of just how busy our mind is at all times. I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought nothing. And strategies like letting my thoughts come and go, acknowledging them without holding on, or placing them on imaginary leaves to float down that beautiful imaginary stream haven’t really worked out either.

Here’s a compromise — because I do feel that regular meditation helps me in so many ways. If not thinking or thinking about nothing (is there a difference between the two?) is not happening, try to channel your thoughts in a direction that feels in sync with your goal of meditating. At least more so than thinking about your to-do list, that looming project deadline, a difficult boss or client, what to cook for dinner, that recurring troll in your mentions, or other not particularly meditative things to ponder.

Think About Meditating

Meditation is a practice and takes practice. Thinking about how we could improve our personal meditation practice can be meditative in and of itself. For example,

  • How does it feel to meditate today?
  • What impact has meditation had on me so far?
  • How can I make myself meditate more often?
  • Is there a particular type of meditation I want to learn?
  • Where could I meditate that I haven’t tried before?

Meditate on Something

Pick something to deliberately meditate on. Meditating on something is no more and no less than thinking about a particular thing rather than pursuing (or trying not to pursue) random thoughts. For example,

  • Ponder a good book you’ve read
  • Draft an article in your head
  • Meditate on a tarot card, or your last spread
  • Think about a person, or your relationship with them
  • Picture what you want your life to look like in 5 years

Do those strategies always work? Of course not. And they’re unlikely to ever turn me into a meditation expert either. But they help me to keep practising when a full-on mindfulness course or committing to any one elaborate meditation tradition feel too daunting.


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a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

Nicole Shephard

Written by

Feminist researcher, writer & consultant | PhD LSE Gender | gender and technology | diversity and inclusion| intersectionality and data.

a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

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