We’re often told, when being taught or having meditation described, to let go of our thoughts. Let them pass by, don’t cling to them, let them be like clouds in the sky. This is a great way to describe meditation, and it’s a relatively accurate one as well.
But what if you can’t let go of a thought? What if there is a thought or image that is persistent? What if it keeps coming back over and over again, and keeps trying to force you to pay attention to it?
Maybe you should.
Persistent thoughts and images might have a purpose
Letting go of your thoughts is a good starting point if you’re new to meditation, meditating to relieve stress, or simply want to do that kind of meditation. There are other reasons for meditation, though, and persistent thoughts and images can play a role in them.
Whether you let go of your thoughts or not, meditation is about taking the time to quiet your mind. It’s about taking control of your mind in a sense. All day long, your thoughts tend to be like wayward toddlers: they go where they want when they want, and if you don’t give them the attention they want, they keep coming back. Even when you’re focusing on a project or an idea or in the middle of a conversation, your thoughts are often still running circles in your mind about a million other things.
Meditation is a chance to consciously look at, choose, or ignore your thoughts. Meditation is the parent that chases down all the wayward toddlers and corrals them in one place, then takes a head count to make sure they’re all there.
When you take this time to sit and quiet your mind, the more important things have a chance to surface. So instead of ruminating all through it about what to make for dinner, your mind will instead bring up a problem that you need to be aware of — or a solution to one you already know about. Or it might bring up a subconscious thought that you hadn’t realized was there but want to focus on — perhaps considering a career, relationship or living situation change.
This means, even if you’ve decided to let go of your thoughts, if there is a thought or image that keeps coming back to you over and over in your meditation, paying attention to it might be a good idea.
Determining overthinking from persistence
These persistent thoughts or images might be your intuition talking to you. Or they might be you overthinking something. So how do you tell the difference?
The good news is because you’re meditating, it will be easier to tell the difference. The bad news is that sometimes you still might not know right away.
So you have to start by paying attention. Let the persistent thought or image surface. Examine it from all sides. Ask yourself how it feels to think about it.
If you’re overthinking, you’re probably going to feel a little tight and tense, maybe even a bit frustrated or upset. Some anxiety might even surface with it if you’re prone to anxiety. You might have questions, and you’ll probably feel a sense of urgency like you must have answers immediately.
If it’s your intuition, if it’s not you overthinking, you’ll probably feel pretty calm. You might feel somewhat curious, particularly if this thought is something you hadn’t considered before now. You might find you have questions, but they won’t feel like they must be answered right this second.
If you’re overthinking, there may not be a lot of clarity around the thought or image. The thought or image itself might be clear, but what to do with it or how to resolve it or why it’s there may all seem kind of cloudy and confusing.
If it’s your subconscious, you’ll feel fairly clear. You may not know what the next steps are or why it came up, but you’ll feel like that’s okay because that will all come in time.
Meditation creates mental clarity
The act of meditation, of letting your thoughts pass by without judgment or attachment, can help create mental clarity. It can provide you with the necessary quiet and space to relax, calm down, cool down, and feel refreshed, energized and ready to handle all that life can throw at you.
Because of that space, thoughts and concerns you weren’t even aware of can feel safe enough to surface. It’s important that we not be so determined to let go of our thoughts that we ignore something important.
Letting go of your thoughts should be the ideal. But if one keeps coming back, let go of letting go and take the time to explore it. Get to know the thought, try to understand why it’s being so persistent and be open to it.
It’s just one of the many ways meditation can change your life.