Who said anything about clearing your mind?
There is a difference between thinking and having thoughts.
Thinking means deliberately engaging your thoughts and following them down trains of imagination/contemplation. But having thoughts simply means a word, idea, or imagination spontaneously pops up in your mind.
Thinking is an activity while having thoughts is a conditioned habit that arises as a consequence of semi-conscious thinking.
We are often engaged in semi-conscious thinking throughout the day. How significant or useful is the narrative that goes on in your head when you brush your teeth in the morning? What about when you’re listening to a friend speak or walking from A to B?
Not only do we habitually engage in unnecessary mental chatter but we do so without our full attention. Sure we know that those thoughts are occurring but we don’t really give them much attention.
During sitting meditation practice, you bring your attention to a place of support. Those supports can be something like the space between your eyebrows, the flow of your breath, or a mantra. You rest your attention on a support similar to the way you rest your attention on a movie screen—in the sense that the place of support becomes the default “home” position for your attention. However, it is not merely a tuning out the way watching a movie may be.
As you rest your attention on the meditative support, thoughts and feelings will arise. For the most part, they were always there in a soupy stream but you never slowed down and looked within to actually notice. Now you are noticing.
Typically you engage with your thoughts the way you do with everything else. You judge the experience of a thought/feeling as pleasant or unpleasant, comforting or threatening, and then you follow that thought down a train of thoughts by means of association. Soon it is easy to forget the fact that you are sitting in meditation or even where you are at all.
However, in meditation, you keep your totally alert and relaxed attention on the meditative support. When a thought arises, you let it do so. You don’t try to push the thought away or forget it nor do you follow it down a train of thinking.
If you catch your attention having wandered down a train of thought, simply pause and bring your attention back to the meditative support. I’ve been meditating for about eight years now and that will still happen. I’ll suddenly find myself thinking about this or that. But it’s no big deal, I just bring my attention back to itself.
Getting frustrated with yourself is just bad learning. You don’t need punishment and scolding in order to learn and grow—quite the opposite. We are more open to learning new things when we feel supported, encouraged, and inspired. So support, encourage, and inspire yourself. When you catch yourself lost in thought, just offer yourself an inner smile and come back to the meditation.
This change in the way you relate to your mind will predispose the thinking process toward silence. You do not clear or silence the mind any more than you can boil a pot of water. All you can do is provide the heat and be patient until the water starts boiling. So in meditation, you provide the calm attention. That’s all that must come from your end. The rest happens on its own.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t experience the benefits of meditation such as peace and clarity until after the mind has become silent. Periods of silence will come and go, even beginning the very week you start daily meditation. Do not cling to any experience of silence or bliss or whatever from meditation.
If peace is only possible when the mind is silent, then that peace is not very useful. But if peace and clarity are possible regardless of whether thinking is happening, or whether turbulent emotions are playing, then that is a very worthwhile peace.
Don’t make a goal out of any of this; make a path of it. Let it inform the way you relate with your experience of having a mind and body throughout the day. That is mindfulness.
When you practice sitting meditation, it acts to familiarize yourself with these inner workings while allowing certain unconscious habits and hangups to dissolve. When you practice mindfulness throughout the day, you maintain touch with the stillness and peace of meditation while touching the moment’s activities as they unfold.
If you are going to practice mindfulness, I would also highly recommend practicing daily sitting meditation as well. Additionally, the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a fantastic treatise on all of this and more.
Namaste :) Much love