Question: My mind is constantly racing. I know that having no thoughts is the goal of meditation, but for me it’s unattainable. How can I possibly come to a thought-free state?
The first step is to see that the mind is not constantly arising. Realize that what we call mind is nothing apart from, or other than, thought. Since this is true, you can ask, “Are thoughts constantly arising?”
To determine that the answer is no, try a fine meditation by Shinzen Young called “Just Note Gone”: see a thought arising, follow this thought along its course, watch as it subsides, and then gently note “Gone.”
Be curious about this space, interval, or gap that is evident after the thought is gone. Look closely at this “void” or “empty space.” Inspect without mentally asking: “What is this?”
Now that you know that mind–that is, thought–isn’t constantly arising, you can start investigating another thought: the thought that having no thoughts is the goal or aim of meditation. Is it?
Consider, in this second step, taking your stand as the witness. Investigate what it’s like to be the witness. Then test: does my stand as the witness in any way change in the presence or in the absence of a thought?
To see that you, the witness, do not change and therefore are not subject to the transience of all thoughts, artificially introduce a thought at random. The thought could be: “I am thinking.” Do you, the witness, in any way change when the thought, “I am thinking,” has been introduced? Or isn’t it actually true that you, the witness, haven’t moved (so to speak) even one inch while the thought has been present? Don’t you remain, essentially, yourself, regardless of the experience arising just now?
In all this, you realize three things. One is that thoughts are not–have never been–a problem. Allow this to be very clear. If it’s not clear, take some time with these investigations until it is clear to you. Another is that you can let go of the assumption that meditation is about being without thoughts (a subject we’ll discuss further at some later date). And a third is that the thought-free state–that is, the state of the witness–is itself free of thoughts insofar as it is “above” and “beyond” thoughts and not insofar as there are necessarily no thoughts present.