QUESTION: What do we do when our minds wander during meditation? Should I keep bringing my attention back to the breath and reconnecting with what is happening now?
ANSWER: That can be a very useful way to practice, but it is not how I teach meditation. Instead, I would suggest not to worrying about being lost in thought because I want you to discover the place in you that can never be lost in thought even if your mind is.
I don't want to encourage you to try to control your awareness by moving it here or there, because that implies that there's a better place and a worse place to be. I want you to feel free. So, in meditation I suggest that you just let go. Your mind will naturally wander in and out of thoughts and that is fine.
I also want you to think about what it means when we say our mind is wandering.
There are always thoughts in our minds and as long as they keep coming and going they don’t disturb our meditation, but sometimes we get so focused on a thought that we forget what we’re doing, we forget that we’re meditating. Eventually we remember where we are and realize that we’re supposed to be meditating. That’s when we feel compelled to bring our attention back to the practice.
That is certainly a valid and helpful way to practice, and yet I want to ask you to think about something. Imagine that you're meditating, and you are aware of what you are doing. Thoughts are coming and going and eventually you get lost in a thought, which simply means that you forget you're meditating.
Then then you remember that you are meditating and want to get back to the practice. The thing is in that moment, you already remember what you are doing, and you're not lost in thought anymore. You're already back. So, there's nothing you need to do to get back to the practice because you're already back.
All you need to do then is just continue. You were lost in thought, then you remembered you were meditating, then you continued meditating. That’s it.
The fact is that occasionally we get lost in thought. Then we remember where we are, then we I forget again, then we remember. It happens like that all day long, and it keeps happening when we meditate. That isn’t a problem that is just the experience of being human.
If we learn how not to be concerned about getting lost in thought we can relax about it and just let our experience be what it is, which is how I teach meditation anyway. Just sit and let everything be as is without making a problem out of it.
Initially meditating in this way might feel useless, but if you keep going something interesting will start to happen. You will start to lose interest in the part of your awareness that keeps forgetting and remembering. As that happens you will find yourself in a state that's always naturally present even while your more superficial awareness continues its endless cycles of forgetting and remembering.
Now you just sit and be aware of forgetting and remembering. It keeps happening and you are aware of it, but you are not doing anything about it. You are just naturally aware. You realize that at this depth you never were lost in thought, and never could be. You are always just aware.