“I hear that meditation is about not thinking. Is that true?” Fact is, the brain is full of thoughts and thinking is one of its natural functions. What we’re really practicing is to get some control over the thoughts that take as here and there, into the past and future, into fabrications and imaginations. Like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, the mind habitually jumps from thought to thought, imagining things, reaching for this and avoiding that.
Yet the only thing that is real is this moment, this breath. It comes and it goes. Everything else is either gone (past), has not yet happened (future), or is made up (fantasy). Take a practical example. I woke up early this morning, well before it was time to get up. Maybe it was a dream or some unfinished business the mind was trying to sort. There I was, lying half-awake, thinking. Monkey mind went all over the place—while what I needed and wanted was to sleep some more. So I directed my attention to my breath, observing its slow rhythm of rising and falling, following the in-breath and the out-breath. Soon my mind grew calmer and I fell asleep again. At ease.
Note that I didn’t follow the thoughts nor did I resist them. I simply let them be, acknowledging their presence and focussing instead on my breath in each moment. This is what one teacher* calls “opening the hand of thought.” Instead of grasping and struggling with them, we let thoughts be. Sounds easy yet can be difficult. It takes practice. Careful, persistent, and loving practice.
*Uchiyama, K. (2004). Opening the hand of thought. Boston: Wisdom Publ.