It can be surprising to notice how the terms ‘thinking’ and ‘meditation’ are used interchangeably, whereas the two stand for very different things in actuality. There are plenty of ways to explain the difference between thinking and meditating.
Big Mind, Small Mind
The ‘Big Mind, Small Mind’ approach belongs to the Japanese Zen philosophy. Small Mind means the intellectual mind or the thinking mind, or that mental aspect with which most of us are familiar with. You use this mental aspect all through your day while living your life, and think through various projects, decisions and situations. But you must have noted that it can be quite problematic – given that it is busy, exhausting, distracting and also potentially overwhelming. The Small Mind is associated to the thinking mind.
On the other hand, Big Mind denotes the quality of awareness. It is that mental aspect that lets us get awareness of all the thoughts that arise. You might have seen that at the time of meditation, you can get the capacity to see thoughts as you replay them in your mind, and also in real-time or in the moment they arise in. The Big Mind is all about awareness and is related to the meditative mind. It appears to be quite spacious, and makes you feel more comfortable.
Quality of perception
Thoughts or thinking mind is associated with judgment, belief and opinion, but the meditative mind is free of these. It is just a witness to the mind and is always rooted in the present – whether there are no thoughts, few thoughts or many thoughts. During the state of meditation, you witness instead of being actively involved. This gives you the impression of stepping back and zooming out, which can shift your mental perception.
While meditating, the mind is not engaged actively in thinking. Although that does not indicate that the mind would remain empty, you can still find thoughts appearing. You will not engage with such thoughts. During meditation, you train the mind to stop chasing every thought that it likes. It does not resist every single unpleasant thought either. Rather, you learn to make yourself familiar with the overall quality of awareness.
Restlessness Vs Tranquility
The experiences between thinking and meditating cannot even be compared. When your mind has been extremely active in thinking all through the night, you wake up to feel exhausted or even restless. In contrast, when you open your eyes even after one hour of meditation, you can let go of all thoughts and become lost in a sense of calm. You feel unified with nature.
It is true that even as you meditate, your mind will wander at times and get distracted. However, so long as you sit in a meditative pose with the aim of just witnessing your mind as it is, you can call it meditation and not just thinking. You can always let go of distractions and get back to your actual point of focus.