On Meditation: Why You Can’t Stop Your Thoughts
When people find out that I’m a meditation teacher, one of the comments I hear is “I could never meditate because I can’t stop my mind from thinking.”
Well, I’ve got news for you: neither can I, and I’ve been meditating consistently since 2003. And neither can my teacher, who’s been meditating since 1967.
As far as I’ve seen, nobody can stop their thoughts by thinking about not thinking. Why? Because “don’t think” is a thought. “Why am I still thinking” is another thought.
Back in the 80′s, they did a study at the University of Texas San Antonio known as the White Polar Bear Study. Psychologists wanted to see if it was possible to suppress certain thoughts. So they had some students sit at tables with a button in front of each of them, and instructed them to sit for five minutes while thinking only of white polar bears – and to push the button every time they had a white polar bear thought.
After five minutes was up, they gave them different instructions: For the next five minutes, you can think about anything in the world, as long as it’s not about a white polar bear. Whatever you do, the researchers said, don’t think about white polar bears. But, if you accidentally have a polar bear thought, hit that button so we can record how many times that happens.
After the second five minutes was up, the scores were tallied.
The researchers found that when the students were not supposed to be thinking about white polar bears, they thought about them more than when they were supposed to be thinking them! In fact, they saw that whenever students attempted to suppress their white polar bear thoughts, they began bordering on obsession – all they could think about was white polar bears.
The overwhelming conclusion: thought suppression doesn’t work.
Next time you meditate, let your thoughts be. Treat them as if you were standing on the corner watching traffic go by. That way, you may transcend your thoughts (which by the way is very possible), instead of straining in an attempt to stop them from coming or push them away.