Last updated December, 2017.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the end of this article (no email required).
The question: "When I meditate, am I training my mind?"
It's a common thing to say - meditating trains your mind. Or, it tames you mind. Or, it silences your mind. But, none of those are accurate.
It would be more accurate to say meditating trains your attention.
Your mind is compulsive, and feelings, thoughts, emotions, and other mental activity are incessant and pervasive.
When it comes to mind-made activity, you have a choice: you can indulge it OR you can let it be as it is, independent from you and your attention.
"Indulge" is defined as "becoming involved in an activity, typically one that is undesirable." When you indulge your mind, you are caught up in it. It would be more accurate to say mindlessly indulge, because we usually aren't aware we are doing it. It's our normal state: we are swept away by thoughts without realizing it, and we blindly follow our minds wherever they lead.
"Being caught up in it" perpetuates mental activity and gives rise to more. This often culminates in you being buried in a landslide of mental noise (as Tolle says, the human condition is "lost in thought").
The other option - letting it be as it is, independent from you and your attention - is commonly referred to as "letting thoughts and emotions go," or letting them pass. What it really means is moving your attention away from them.
Where do you move your attention to? If you are meditating, to an anchor (usually your breath or a mantra).
If you aren't meditating, to the present moment and what you are doing here and now. This is called being mindful.
Your mind will do what it will do. Your job isn't to control it - it's to stop letting it control you.
It's important to clarify these misconceptions, because people come to meditation believing they are going to "train their mind" and make it quiet. They quickly find out they can't do that, so they get frustrated and give up.
And then they go back to a life of stress, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and all the other struggles that meditation and mindfulness - properly taught and applied - can help you overcome.
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