Do You Have To “Empty Your Mind” To Meditate “Correctly?”


For me, yoga is a form of moving meditation.  I find that as I “align with the divine” in asana, I actually experience my Higher Self in a tangible way.  Pretty cool.

But sometimes my mind and thoughts get in the way of this union with my Higher Self.

How about you?

women_meditating-1Early on in my practice, I had this (what I now feel to be erroneous) belief that I should “empty my mind” when meditating or doing yoga. I thought that when thoughts came up – especially “negative” ones – that I wasn’t doing my yoga or meditation “right.”

Now, I look at it very differently.

The second of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (basically, the yoga “bible”) is:

Yoga Chitta Vrtti Nirodhah

Chitta means “mind” or “consciousness,” Vrtti means “waves” or “fluctuations” and Nirodhah means “ceasing.”  So Patanjali’s second yoga sutra is telling us to “cease the fluctuations of the mind.”

Stopping the fluctuations makes perfect sense to me.  If the mind is a calm lake, then it is peaceful, but if it has waves, it is not.  So we can find peace (and the magnificence of our Higher Self) if we can stop the reactive, ups-and-downs of the mind.

So, how do we stop our mind from fluctuating?  By emptying it?  If so, HOW do we “empty it?”  I think for many a yogi, the desire to “empty the mind” is one of the biggest causes of fluctuations in the mind!

So personally, I am not a big believer of the “empty the mind” idea.  You don’t have to empty a room to make it peaceful.  You just need the people in the room to be at peace with themselves and each other.

And besides, the mind is a “room” that by its very nature will frequently have people — that is, thoughts — in it.  Sometimes these people will be loud and noisy go in and out of the room.  If we actually resist that coming and going, we get agitated and create an even less calm mind.

Besides, I find that the peace of a big, empty room is not nearly as profound as that of a big room full of people praying or meditating (or chanting or singing) in perfect harmony and experiencing blissful, communal unity.    Now that is a tangible, delicious peeeeeace!  Don’t you think?

What I’m trying to say is:  rather than try and empty your mind, why not look at your thoughts more clearly and accept them WITHOUT TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY OR PERSONALLY.   As you look at them, just be the Sacred Witness, be “outside” and above them.

If you watch closely enough, you may come to realize that you do not actively generate most of your thoughts anyway.  Instead, you are “being thought.”  What I mean is you are receiving unconscious thoughts into your mind most of the time in the same way you are receiving unconscious breathe into your respiratory system.

So why take your thoughts — ones you didn’t even consciously create — personally?  Why react to your thoughts and create more “fluctuations in the mind?”  No thought is true anyway in regard to your Higher Self, because the Higher Self resides on a plane that is ABOVE ALL thought.

So how do we entice the people in our room (the thoughts in our mind) into peace and calm?  The best way I know is to question every thought so we might reveal it’s limitations.  And the best way I know to question a thought is to use Byron Katie’s process called “The Work.”  It is a series of four short questions and a turnaround that can release you from the grip of negative thoughts in mere moments.

Here’s the link for The Work.

Or, if you prefer, here’s a video of Byron Katie actually doing the process.

If you don’t wish to do The Work, then perhaps you can just allow yourself to realize in a deep sense that ALL thoughts are untrue (and relative at best) in regard to the Higher Self.  If you can realize this, then you won’t react to ANY thoughts and you will find yourself experienceing Yoga Chitta Vrtti Nirodhah.

But if you, like me, sometimes fall into the ego’s trap of believing  “your” thoughts, then I highly and joyfully recommend that you do “The Work” and feel the freedom and peace of letting your thoughts go.



  • Victor
    February 17, 2012

    Great blog! Thank you for sharing the links to “The Work.”

    In Zen meditation, we learn to observe our thoughts and try not to get involved with them. Using a balloon analogy, we know that our thoughts will float up, but we do not have to try to grab them or follow them. We can just observe them as they come, acknowledge them, and then let them float off. It is so simple and yet such a challenge at times. 🙂

    Be well!

  • Vicki
    February 18, 2012

    Yes, Victor, the key is to not “get involved” with your thoughts (or to even believe them). Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Vicki

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