In Buddhist meditation circles conceptual thought tends to get the same rap as the ego. It is perceived as something bad, something that we don’t want or that needs to be eliminated.
And it’s no wonder. Thinking can feel like a great burden. In our efforts to meditate we see how unruly the mind can be. It charges off here and there and everywhere chattering away insanely – all day and night. And because the mind can be so hyperactive we tend to make thoughts the enemy. Meditation practice becomes a battleground between me, the meditator, and the invading thoughts.
We tend to forget that in our schooling – particularly in the West – we spend twelve, sixteen, eighteen and more years in education systems learning to think and think and think, to create concepts, to juggle many ideas at once, to compare them and critique them. And we get praised for our ability to do that well.
So it is hardly surprising that when we come to meditation all of this is still going on. When we sit down to meditate we see the results of the actions of a lifetime. That’s to be expected. We can’t decide to stop thinking any more than we can decide to grow a couple of inches, keep our hair from graying, determine to be a bit more charming, or never get angry again. We can do all the deciding we like but it doesn’t work.
Like many of us, I got interested in meditation to stop thinking. I wanted some peace of mind! I had spent many years endlessly stimulating the mind with all sorts of fascinating, useful, wonderful and interesting things and I felt immensely burdened by the resulting mental activity. I wanted to at least slow it down a bit if not stop it altogether.
…I had to conclude that the act of thinking itself was not the problem. Rather the suffering lay in the uncontrolled quality of thinking where the mind is running and racing and just chattering away. And I suddenly became very interested in how this random chatter occurred.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the booklet, Thinking, (pdf) pp.1, 2.