Is a quiet mind expected in meditation?

buddha head

No need to try so hard to have a quiet mind

Having a blank, empty or quiet mind is one of the most common assumptions people have of meditation. That’s the assumption I also had before I truly understood meditation.

So is it the goal?  If you meditate and aren’t getting this quiet mind, does that mean you’re not meditating right?  Are you doing something wrong if you feel calm, then busy thoughts keep popping into your head?

The answer is simple, and important to understand and accept in order to enjoy meditation. Every person and every meditation is unique, no matter how experienced the meditator is.

Typically, the feeling of stillness of mind comes and goes during a meditation session.  The busy mind generally will start to relax after the first several minutes of meditation – I have heard the statistic that it takes the average person 15 minutes to get into a relaxed, calmer state.  Don’t expect the session to slowly calm your mind and then stay there in a state of nothingness and bliss!  It is completely normal to move in and out of stillness.  The important thing is to always recognize when a thought has popped into your head, and then gently bring your focus back to your meditation.

In my experience, and in talking to my students who have made meditation a life practice, find that over time, the quietness comes more often, and for longer moments during meditation – but again, this isn’t a rule or shouldn’t be expected. Mindfulness meditation is simply about ‘being‘, not trying to achieve something special.

So the answer to the question is:  “Yes, but sometimes, not all the time.  Allow stillness to come and go.”

The best attitude to have is to enjoy these moments of stillness, even if they are only for a few seconds at a time. Savour these moments. Pay attention to when they happen and notice if your experience changes over time.

I hope this has been helpful.  When someone understands and accepts not to expect a totally calm mind, they enjoy meditation so much more.

So savor meditation, accept it exactly how it is, and see what it brings to you.

~Wendy

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8 thoughts on “Is a quiet mind expected in meditation?

  1. Hey Wendy,
    Yes. Thank you for this. It is spot on. What you talk about here may be the biggest misunderstanding that people have about meditation and a huge obstacle that keeps people from entering or enjoying the practice. It’s often the first thing I say to people when they ask about meditation. That even long time meditators have thoughts arising and fading away. That the ending of thoughts is not the goal. This takes the pressure off people and immediately makes them more curious about the practice. Yay! The only thing I might suggest is that instead of suggesting that they savour the moments when they feel a certain comfort or stillness (which can lead to them desiring them or trying to get them and then grief when they pass away) that they just observe when they are there and observe when they pass away. That the moments when they feel uneasy or un-still, are just fine too. And in a way, just the simple observation and honest recognition that they are uneasy or restless, can be a powerful moment of awakening, and, I might suggest, more valuable than finding stillness. Thank you for your good work Wendy toward the peace and happiness of all beings!

    • Hello there! THANK YOU. What wonderful insight and I agree with you. I appreciate your explanation of being just fine where you are, as you’re right, seeking out the moments of stillness means anticipating it and possibly being disappointed if it doesn’t come.

      Lovely input and insight, thank you and have a wonderful day,
      ~Wendy

  2. Hi Wendy. Enjoy your posts. When I first started meditating I was told that our mind loves to wander. We become aware that it’s wandering and simply observe; as the thoughts pop in and out, we don’t judge or analyze them. Gently refocus on the present moment. Mindfulness takes time and we need to be patient with ourselves.

    • Hello, thank you so much for commenting, because I know it helps anyone reading this.
      And thank you for reading my blog – have a lovely day!

      ~Wendy

  3. What I have found helpful is that when thoughts or images arise, to just observe them like clouds drifting by. Don’t judge them, label them, analyze them or get frustrated – just observe them. Obtaining an objective distance from my own mental chatter such that I can dispassionately observe it has been very helpful. The result is that I am far less at the mercy of triggered emotional responses. As an example, someone cuts me off in traffic…
    Scenario 1
    My purely reactionary mind might say: “That jerk! How dare they? I’m furious!” – and my thoughts cloud with anger, my blood pressure goes up. I have thoughts of retaliation, etc. It bothers me until I get home, I relate the story of what a jerk this person was on my way home. It eats at me. I want justice. I’m grumpier than I would be otherwise for the rest of the evening.
    Scenario 2
    Thanks to my meditation practice, if the same thing happens now, my typical thought process might be: “That was dangerous, but I’m still OK. In the grand scheme of things, does this really matter? Is it worth my energy and mental health? Is it worth getting upset? It’s actually kind of silly and petty when I take a step back and reflect on it. Let it go. That person is probably under a lot of stress. I bet they are having a bad day. They are certainly not conscious.” – instead I feel compassion for them and quickly forget about the incident. By the time I get home, it is the furthest thing from my mind. Personally, I think this is a lot healthier and might even help me live longer by not harboring negative emotions over things that really don’t harm me in any way.
    This is one of the gifts that meditation practice gives you. Of course thoughts arise when you meditate – I think they always will, and that is OK. The Dali Lama says that he experiences thoughts arising when he meditates, so it happens to even the most experienced of meditators. It is normal. The trick is to learn to just accept these thoughts as they arise without judgement. It’s OK. They drift away and you return to your breath or your present awareness. Slowly, over time, with practice, as Wendy says, you’ll find that the thoughts arise less frequently and the periods of calm lasts a little longer. I think there is a lot of value in these thoughts arising. They are a tool you can use to learn to become an observer of your own thought processes. Not a judge, not a critic, but an accepting, compassionate observer. This is sometimes called “calm abiding” in some meditation traditions.

    • Hi Ken, that is a helpful description to show the choice we all have in our daily lives. And yes, it’s interesting the the Dalai Lama has thoughts arising too!

      Thank you very much,
      ~Wendy

    • Hi there, well, all I know is that no one I’ve ever spoken to or read books of has achieved a 100% empty mind in every meditation they do. Perhaps somehow people have made that assumption over the years. You know how stories change as they are passed on. Or perhaps monks in the hilltops who choose to make this their life’s practice can do it.

      People who are curious about meditation almost always think it’s about having a blank mind. One of my favorite things to do is to help dispel that myth, and educate people on what realistic expectations are.

      Thank you for your comment,
      ~Wendy

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