Why Does The Mind Wander During Meditation?

When people first start meditating, they embrace a new reality in their life. One that will bring them long-term lasting peace, the same way exercise would build muscle and good health. Meditating in itself isn’t physically hard, but it can be psychologically. 

Many give up before they see the fruits of their discipline because we are programmed to see progress to not find what we’re doing pointless. 

The mind wanders because it wants something to do. Something to think of. But if it’s given the luxury of rest, it can develop that thinking and expand that thinking, even if it has to stay still for a while.

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

Meditation is anything but pointless. Instead, it’s a great way to test our endurance and discipline while simultaneously changing the brain, preparing us for resilience in other situations that we would’ve otherwise given up on. 

But many feel like they can’t meditate, because even after practicing for a long time, their mind still wanders.  

And while meditation gives us better control over ourselves and makes it less likely for the mind to wander. 

There’s only so much we can control before we reach areas outside of our control, and the way to approach that is with acceptance. A big part is about what we can do and making the best of it. 

So long as you focus on what you can change and so long as you see some areas of your lives improve, you are on the right path with your meditation. 

Letting The Mind Wander, And Still Meditating

The mind wants something to think of. It’s impossible to completely tame the mind, as we’ll always gravitate to one thought or another. 

These thoughts can be pleasing as well as uncomfortable. But here’s what you should do if your mind wanders but you still want to meditate. 

Say you are using focused meditation, a meditation that doesn’t give much room for the mind to go to other places other than what you specify. 

If you’re constantly focusing on your breath, and your mind still wanders, you can do two things to sustain your meditation. 

And what you do here will depend on you, since meditation is a personalized discipline. You can slowly bring your attention back to your breath. 

To some, this will feel like they are fighting the mind, but to make this feel less like a fight, try not to do it abruptly, and let the mind wander for a bit. 

The best analogy I can give is one where the frog is boiled slowly, without the frog noticing until it’s too late. 

The idea is that we apply the same principle to our mind to meditation. By the mind’s nature, it will oppose meditation as the mind is deprived of its ability to overthink. Overthinking is addictive but it isn’t good for us. 

Strangely, many of us have the habit of laying our focus on something that isn’t in our control, and it can’t always be fought back by simply bringing our attention back to something of the present, like our breath, for instance. 

And while this approach will work for a lot of meditators, some need another approach. 

This other approach is gonna be easier for many: once the mind has wandered, instead of staying in the now, we let it wander but instead of bringing the attention back to the now, we follow the mind and observe the thoughts it receives, then accept those thoughts. 

After a few months, these thoughts become less bothersome, and what was once creating an unpleasant meditation experience, now merely coexists with the practice without disrupting it. 

However, if your mind gravitates to positive thoughts, you don’t have to worry about this part. 

Simply enjoy observing these thoughts and eventually, you’ll enter a deeper state of meditation. Twenty minutes should be enough to get a basic feel of what meditation can give you.

It’s OK For The Mind To Wander

While it’d be ideal for the mind to stay focused on one thing throughout the entire session, we have to approach our meditation by letting go of expectations and acceptance. 

These aren’t things we carry onto the meditation by default, but it’s something that starts becoming core values after meditating for a while. 

Even for those that have been doing the practice for years, they still find their mind wandering. The major difference between those individuals and beginners is that they are not bothered by that fact. 

They simply accept that there are things outside of their control, such as the thoughts and emotions they experience, and this alone, gives them more control of the meditation, as there’s less that can affect their practice. 

Letting the mind wander is a sign of self-acceptance, so long as we do what we can to limit the inner chatter and focus our attention on something that keeps us here. 

There’s some mental resistance with meditation, just like there’s muscle resistance when we exercise. 

Exercise doesn’t necessarily become easier, we just become stronger, which as a result, makes the exercise more enjoyable, and the same principle applies to meditation. 

The mind-wandering is the most normal thing that can happen in meditation, but also the primary reason people give up in meditation. But it’s to be expected for the mind to wander. 

Not all meditation sessions will be the same, in some, you will feel more focused, at which point you may be able to find a combination of patterns to replicate subsequent experiences. 

There’s this misconception that meditation will shut down the mind completely, or keep it in one place, and that’s only a half-truth because there’s the variable that we’re all different and so is our attention span and focus. 

No matter if you’ve been meditating for a decade or one week, your mind is still prone to wander, but it’s likely to happen less the more you accommodate the mind with the idea of meditation. 

There’s a high likelihood that most of your meditations in the future you keep your mind under control and can achieve the flow state where, independently of what’s going around you, nothing can break your peace. 

That alone is comforting and freeing, as you’re no longer subject to many of the things you were dependent on before to feel fulfilled. 

Let go of the control you try to exert on your mind, and you’ll find yourself having more control by not being dependent on it. What you are resisting persists, whereas what you are more likely to accept is easier to change. 

For some, meditation takes longer for them to see any progress. Keep the expectations at a reasonable level and meditation becomes easier. 

Allow the mind to wander and it’s likely to come back to you. Much like when in a relationship, allowing the partner some autonomy rather than trying to control them makes them more likely to keep them attached to you. This is an analogy that describes the mind. The mind wants to feel free. 

Giving it the freedom to wander can make the mind more accepting of the notion of rest. 

Fortunately, the mind can rest and replenish quicker than the body does from exercise, something that can be reflected in a decreased need for sleep in many meditators. 

Sticking With It and Pushing Through Despite Mind Wandering

One of the best ways to test mental strength is to keep going, even when you don’t see any results. Breaking out of the thinking that you have to see progress and results short term will create the thinking of delaying gratification, a common mindset that many successful individuals have used as a means to achieve their goals. 

Meditation indirectly assists you with your goals, making you more resilient and willing to adapt to your environment. After all, meditation is all about being in the now and making it work in a way that suits you. That way, your mind no longer sees the need to flee. 

The good changes you work on internally will many times reflect on the external. When you stick through with meditation, despite not seeing any results, giving it a solid attempt to see changes happen is when you push a breakthrough that most won’t push through. 

You embrace the hardship of meditation, and any bad hand life gives you becomes easier to deal with. If you do hard things life will be easier. The same can be said about the opposite. 

Doing something hard doesn’t sound attractive, but it’s what moves the needle in most of the ambitions that people aim to achieve.  

Fortunately, if after giving one particular meditation a solid amount of time, you still don’t see anything changing, you can choose a meditation that suits you well.

Maybe it’s movement meditation or maybe it’s yoga. Meditation isn’t this black and white practice where if you can’t do one particular meditation you’re doomed. 

It’s quite the opposite. There are more meditations than ice cream flavors. It’s okay if the path takes longer for this reason. 

With meditation, you’re not competing with anyone else. You’re finding your path to a more meaningful, happier, and freer life, among other things meditation can provide you. By learning to enjoy the process and falling in love with the “boredom”, redefining it completely, meditation as a whole will be easier than it’s ever been. 

Make the meditation less feeling-dependent and more discipline-dependent and you will be ahead of most meditators, you’ll even be less likely to give up, to begin with, despite the mind wandering. 

Sticking with it is usually the transition process that separates long-term meditators that reap the reward for their lifetime and those who were simply curious about the practice but not serious enough to have a positive impact on their daily life. 

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