What to do if your mind wander during meditation?


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I was born a Buddhist, and still am a practicing one. Since I was little, nearly everyone I knew had a meditation and prayer room in their house. I also got used to accompanying my mom to the temple many weekends. I climbed the Golden Mountain and eat ice cream while she meditated in her class for hours. In Thailand, meditation was more of a normal thing that everyone should do, rather than this hippy thing or a personal development thing that only hippies do.

Everyone in Thailand knows that you meditate in order to get better at Samadhi, which means focus and concentration, whether there was science to support it or not. It’s what we experienced for thousands of years, which is why it’s called “Samadhi Sitting” (Nung Samadhi) in Thai.

Solution to the wandering mind during meditation? Expectation management.

When meditation hits it big in the western world, many westerners complain that they can’t do meditation because their minds wander as they close their eyes. To me, it’s simply an issue with expectation management.

When we have a meditation session in Thailand, nobody that I know of complains that their mind wanders. It’s just something everyone deals with internally. Our minds are going to wander, and we just have to strive to get right back to meditate. When we sit down to meditate, we are there to grow and improve personally, and we don’t complain. If I was in a morning school ritual with thousands of other students, I just had to keep sitting there and deal with whatever demon I had in my head.

If your mind doesn’t wander, you are actually a very advanced meditator. After having meditated since I could sit (perhaps since 5 years old), the only time my mind didn’t wander for a few minutes was during one of my meditation retreats at Ampawan temple when I had been up to pray and meditate at 4 AM, and it went on until 9 PM. I hadn’t spoken to anyone for 3 – 4 days.

During the days leading up to that moment of still mind, it was as if I had a movie replay of my conversations with other people. Those thoughts came up in my head during my meditation sessions. It’s as if my mind was detoxing the thoughts as it cleared up. That means if you have had limited sensory input and no stimulation for extended periods of time, it is much easier to manage the wandering thoughts in your head.

My Most Healing Medicine: The Art of Being Present with and Forgiving to Myself

Years later, when I took a Qi Gong class just to try it out, the instructor made me do a wavy hand gesture for an entire hour and a half. Needless to say it was really boring. I asked the instructor if I could progress and learn another move, and he responded that if I could focus my mind for a minute straight, I could learn the next move. He then instructed me to keep doing the same move for half an hour every single day. Then I asked how long it would take me to achieve that state, and he said that it could probably take years of daily practice.

Meditation, or parasympathetic activities overall, can be just like that. It’s the practice of being in the present moment and letting go. You simply cannot type-A yourself into a more advanced stage of a meditative practice. In fact, it’s the opposite of being a type-A person, which might explain why it is so healthy and helpful to me. I am quite good at getting things done with intelligence, hardwork, and skills mastery. But what meditation got me as another component of success is the ability to be present, patience, and compassion, which is why meditation is my perfect medicine.

What do you do if your mind wander?

While I have practiced many types of meditation, Vipassana is my meditation of choice for religious reasons. Therefore, I’m only aware of the specific protocol of what to do if my mind wanders during Vipassana meditation.

The form of Vipassana meditation that I was taught always start with the walking part, which I find remarkably easier than the sitting meditation. It’s also said in the Buddhist canon that walking meditation makes it easier to concentrate during the sitting part. My teacher emphasizes that I should always do the walking and sitting meditation in equal duration.

Whenever another thought arise during the meditation, I am taught to think of the word “thinking”, then let go of the thought and continue the meditation. The key of Vipassana is to be conscious: to follow your thoughts, your movement, and your activities with your consciousness. It is with good consciousness that we get benefits from the meditation, and which will lead to enlightenment.

Without obstacles, we don’t grow or improve. Even though it seems like an obstacle, the wandering mind is an opportunity to train our consciousness. Therefore, you can still get the benefits of the meditation even though your mind wanders, so the gist is that it’s better to do it even though you are not perfect.

Tips to tame that wandering mind during meditation?

  1. Just let go and being present. Really do your best to focus on the present and not beat yourself up over what just went wrong. It is okay if your mind wander, just make your present the best. Let it go.
  2. Use binaural beats brain entrainment. Advanced meditators can achieve the theta brainwave during meditation, so you can “cheat” by using brain entrainment as an aid. I personally use the Binaural 32 Brainwave programs to entrain my brain during my Vipassana practice, and it can also be used to augment other practices. I find that it enhances the practice. Note that you will need headphones and use it at least 6 times to see results.
  3. Reduce your stimulating sensory inputs. More sensory inputs means that your nervous system has more things to process. Therefore, you want to leave your smartphone at home if you are going to a meditation retreat. Beyond that, it is a good idea to reduce exposure to social media, and really learn to do one thing at a time. (Read: no 20 tabs opened on a browser.)

How meditation has helped me

I was originally a type A, left-brain brainiac, neurotic, anxiety-prone, ADD-prone, stress-prone and perhaps anger-prone person. Meditation has helped me calm down, reduce anxiety, and focus. Meditation has improved my memory and makes me more intelligent, with increased ability to recognize patterns among things and learn what I know at a rapid pace. It has trained me to be a compassionate and wise person. Last but not least, meditation is the hero in my hero’s journey. It is the best thing in the world that has ever happened to me.

Having healed from an eating disorder solely through meditation, I became open to other less tangible things that may help me grow as a person and heal myself. This is why I continue to experiment with other healing modalities before I actually say something about it, because why analyze it when you can experience it?

How do you deal with your wandering mind? Please chime in in the comments below.

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