My problem is that I think too much. Practicing mindfulness helps me deal with the thoughts (being non-reactive to the thoughts, that is), but when I’m under stress (and I’m under stress a lot) it’s harder to be mindful. Plus, it’s not really possible to be mindful all the time, even when stress-free.
I know the mind’s job is to think, and I know everyone’s mind is filled with thoughts, but I feel like I have a lot more than most people. Is there a good way to reduce the volume of thoughts?
Dennis, 31, U.S.
Thank you for your question. It seems that you have some concerns about the amount of thoughts you experience and are hoping to find some way to reduce the volume of thoughts.
I believe you’re correct. I do believe that some people experience or engage in more thinking than others do. This, of course, can be a blessing and a curse. Thoughts in and of themselves are typically not the issue for most people; it’s the power they give the thoughts.
You’re also correct in saying that the vast majority of us can’t keep being mindful all of the time. My guess is that since you’re writing to a mindfulness-based internet site about this issue, you’ve probably already tried many meditational approaches that emphasize focusing on the breath.
Modern society is inundated with thought-provoking stimuli. Everywhere we go, we see signs, billboards, or other forms of advertisement that force our brains into “thinking” mode. Few of us are blessed with an environment that allows us to “turn off” and just enjoy being. Instead, we’re “on” 24 hours a day, just like most of our stores and television stations. Trying to shut off or slow down this mental activity can be a difficult task at times.
For people who struggle with this obstacle, I often suggest that they try chanting. The practice of chanting and reciting suttas is a central aspect of spiritual discipline, and for very good reason. When chanting, we engage our thinking in order to recite positive verses and teachings in a rhythmic and somewhat monotonous manner. The thinking mind is placed onto a skillful object for a period of time in a way that inclines the mind towards peace.
For many meditators, the mind becomes much more peaceful after half an hour of chanting. I myself have found that my quiet meditation time is much more powerful if I’ve previously chanted. Furthermore, self-created sounds such as chanting will cause the left and right hemispheres of the brain to synchronize. Such chanting will also help oxygenate the brain, reduce our heart rate and blood pressure and assist in creating calm brainwave activity.
The point is to start using what may be presenting itself as an obstacle as a means to further your practice. So, instead of trying to reduce your thought level, instead try turning those thoughts into the practice of reciting a mantra or chant. This will allow you to use what’s causing some disturbance at this time as a vehicle that’ll further your practice.