When the meditating mind wanders

Curr Opin Psychol. 2019 Aug;28:133-137. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.12.006. Epub 2018 Dec 15.


The capacity for thought and the ability to assemble and manipulate concepts are cognitive features unique to humans. Spontaneous thoughts often occur when we are engaged in attention-demanding tasks, with an increased frequency predicting negative affect. Meditation does not require thinking; however, thinking occurs naturally during meditation. We develop the hypothesis that chronic thinking associated with strong emotional arousal during meditation practice might be detrimental to meditation practice and well-being. One goal of meditation is to identify the arousal of emotions and thoughts, and remain equanimous with them. Over time, meditation may help dampen the attention-grabbing power of these thoughts both during practice and in daily life, which may consequently help deepen meditation practice. However, when meditators fail to remain equanimous, the effects of these thoughts may be deleterious. We discuss how this hypothesis may help guide future research on meditation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Meditation*
  • Thinking*