Here’s a really common misconception I regularly encounter in my work as a Buddhist-oriented psychotherapist: that meditation means stopping thoughts, entering a state of not feeling, not thinking (and probably not breathing, while you’re at it).
While settling the mind is a basic meditative practice, it’s not attained by struggling to repress thoughts. At least in the approach I’ve trained in (the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dzogchen), this kind of struggle is utterly beside the point. The mind’s nature is to think. That’s simply how it is, just as water is wet, just as fire is hot.
The glitch lies in thinking that meditation is something we need to do, a task to accomplish, like brushing our teeth or going to the gym. Meditation is not about preventing thoughts or emotions from arising. Rather, it is about recognising the particular state we are in—the awareness that embraces our present experience, yet is not tied to it.
The mind’s basic nature is cognizance, knowingness, awareness. Recognising this, and how this basic nature is not attached to any particular thing, we gain a sense of ease.
Thoughts come and thoughts go. What is their origin, or their destination? Where is the thought you had at 4:38 pm last Tuesday? Can you show me that thought, bring it to me? Try that for a while.
It seems like there’s an ‘I’ producing these thoughts, just as it may seem like there’s a solid thought—but it’s all sleight of hand, the smoke and mirrors of self-grasping.
The Dzogchen approach to meditation is to relax. Deeply. No effort is required (by definition, efforting involves an ‘I’, someone who is making the effort). Simply relax into the natural state.
There’s a Tibetan saying: “Gom ma yin, kom yin”—which, roughly translated, means something like, “Meditation isn’t; getting used to is.” In other words, meditation isn’t about doing anything. It’s simply about getting used to the natural state.