Last updated September, 2018.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page (no email required).
When you touch something extremely hot, you pull your hand away. You don't leave it there and analyze the pain.
Likewise, when you meditate and become aware of thoughts - or any mind-made activity - you don't analyze them. You aren't concerned with where they came from or why they arose, and you don't dwell (or ruminate) on them.
Analyzing is simply more thought.
And, it doesn't stop: those thoughts trigger more thoughts, and those thoughts trigger more thoughts, and on and on.
Instead, when meditating, focus your attention on an anchor (usually your breath or a mantra). At some point, your attention will wander and you'll become aware of thoughts. When this happens, simply return your attention to the anchor. This act of becoming aware is often called "observing," because when you observe you are - by default - aware; you are no longer lost in thought.
People get confused, however, because they believe "observe" implies some type of action. Which, of course, brings it closer to something like analyzing.
Therefore, it might be more appropriate to say "notice." When you notice your attention has wandered, and you're aware of thoughts, simply return it to the anchor.
We often refer to the exercise of meditating as "notice and return" for the simplicity of the description. Notice and return, over and over and over.
As you strengthen awareness through meditation, you are able to break the habit of following your mind wherever it leads. And, since your mind usually leads you down paths that culminate in conditioned behavior and habitual actions and reactions, you can greatly reduce the emotional turmoil in your life (anxiety, stress, endless worry, etc.) by building a consistent practice and learning not to follow it!
I came across mindfulness and meditation in the 1990s, when I was trying to cope with the emotional turmoil of a high-pressure job. The most I hoped to achieve was reducing my stress and improving my focus. Instead, I discovered how to address the root cause of all my struggles - from endless worry to feelings of anxiety and depression to tension headaches (and everything in between). Read more...