Welcome to meditation! Evidence suggests that the conscious human mind is only able to hold onto one thought for a maximum of about 3 seconds. On the flip side, this explains why intrusive thoughts can be such an interruption during meditation. Of course, the whole point of meditation is to turn the ongoing, chattering voice in the head off for a few minutes. The ongoing dialogue in our minds is responsible for almost all of the anguish we experience—it makes us stressed, worried, anxious, angry, jealous, and even crazy.
The general rule when meditating is if an unwanted or intrusive thought pops into your mind, simply acknowledge it and re-focus back on the meditation. While it can be frustrating for that song you heard last night to keep popping into your mind or to want to keep adding to the to-do list, allowing yourself to succumb to the frustration will only get you further and further away from the peace and serenity you are seeking through the meditation. Have the awareness that even if an intrusive thought arises, it will not ruin your meditation. It is something that happens to every meditator—let it go.
Another great way to stop the thinking mind during meditation is by focusing on being present. This is why breathing can be an essential tool for meditation. As you very consciously breathe in and out, focusing on this simple, life-affirming activity, your mind will be able to relax. Presence is about being here and now. That means the mind has not drifted off somewhere else (there) and is not obsessively worrying about upcoming events or painful past traumas (then). This is why Buddhist teacher Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now is an international best-seller. Being present, in the now, brings the peace and serenity sought through meditation simply by quieting the voice in the head.
Some prefer to ward off intrusive thoughts by repeating an affirmation or mantra as they meditate. You might think in your mind, focusing your energies on this, “I am unconditional love. I am open to love. I believe in love.” Perhaps you prefer, “I am relaxed. I am calm. I am free. I am patient.” By directing your energies towards a specific desired mantra, you can help keep your energies away from undesired thoughts.
If you experience intrusive thoughts that are violent or flashbacks of traumas you have endured, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a trained professional to help you work through these issues. Meditation may not be appropriate for you if you are experiencing flashbacks each time you try to close your eyes and relax.
~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com