Many people find it difficult to quiet their minds when they meditate. Some erroneously assume that they are supposed to eliminate thinking altogether. The article "Thoughts on Thinking" by Edward Espe Brown, a Zen priest and author, offers tips on how to engage your thinking constructively when you meditate.
The first strategy is to focus your thinking on posture and breathing. For example, your thinking may enable you to count the breaths or keep your spine straight.
The second strategy is to give your thinking a task. For example, you can ponder Koans to break traditional thinking patterns or take mental notes of what's going on, such as "thinking," "judging," "labeling," "feeling happy," etc.
The third strategy is to ask your thinking to leave you alone for now and promise to check back later. The author recounts the advice he received from a speech consultant when he had trouble expressing himself at meetings:
"I can't." When she wondered why not, I explained: "My thinking won't let me. It says it won't be good enough."
She offered some instructions: "Ask your thinking to go into the room next door while you talk, and promise that you will check back with it when you are done."
"It won't go."
"There's a television there."
"It doesn't believe I'll check back."
"It still won't go," I lamented.
"Close the door! Force it shut!" she insisted.
Finally, I told her what I had wanted to say at the meeting. "Now, let's ask your thinking what it thought," she said. My thinking was pleased and relieved to be consulted: "That was rather good," it told me. But my speech consultant wasn't finished. "And now let's ask your thinking if it has any suggestions for improvement?"
My thinking was so pleased and politely responded, "You might have tried this or emphasized that a little more."
This was a fundamental shift from the more habitual approach of simply telling my thinking to go away and not "bother" me. Here, I asked my thinking to be quiet so as to closely observe what was happening—and then tell me about it.
You can read the full article "Thoughts on Thinking" by Edward Espe Brown here.