What to Do When Thoughts Arise While Meditating

The mind often wanders in meditation—and it’s normal. Elisha Goldstein, psychologist and founder of the Mindful Living Collective, explores how to deal with both important and irrelevant ideas that come up.

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Q. Sometimes when I’m meditating a thought arises that feels really important. What should I do about important thoughts and ideas that arise while I’m meditating—and what about the irrelevant ones?

A. The essential attitude of a meditator is curiosity. Meditation gives us an opportunity to look at what our minds do when we’re paying attention to them. And what the mind often does is wander off. Try to integrate an attitude of playfulness into your practice. Your practice doesn’t need to be rigid and strict—there can be spontaneity and flexibility. So, your mind wanders. See the thought, touch it—say here’s the thought, spend a moment with it. If it’s important, note that you want to come back to it—feel free to say, in your mind, that’s an important thought, I want to remember it. If it’s irrelevant, note that it’s irrelevant. Either way, very gently bring your attention back to your breath. Gentleness is important here, because what we practice and repeat over time becomes a habit. Consider this: What would the days, weeks, and months ahead be like if you were gentle with yourself? What would be different? When your mind wanders off and you quickly yank it back, it’s worthwhile to go back and say what was that thought again? Take note of it, and practice more gently bringing your attention back.

Try this free sample of our How to Meditate Course: Making Mindfulness a Habit—with Dr. Elisha Goldstein.

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