Some of these thoughts are easy enough to ignore. A funny memory or recollection of something I read demands no action from me.
But often, the thoughts that come to me during my designated time of prayer command attention, calling out that I notice them immediately.
Sometimes, I think of something I need to remember to do later. Frequently, I mull over a problem that, for whatever reason, seems to have a pressing need to be solved.
I have found that forcing oneself not to think of something is pretty unhelpful. As Anthony de Mello pointed out, we are forever tied to that which we reject. Best to simply let the dilemmas enter and drift out of our minds in due course.
On days when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed going into my quiet time, however, I have found it beneficial to establish a “Worry-Free Zone.” The concept is simple: during my meditation, I am not allowed to fret over anything. I do not try to push issues out of my head, but for 10-15 minutes of silence, I cannot actively try to solve them. It is the rule.
I developed this idea during my Jesuit Volunteer Corps orientation a few years ago, and I found it remarkably useful in keeping my prayer time about prayer rather than troubleshooting. More to the point, I discovered that by the time I finished my meditation and was free to worry again, the things that had been giving me anxiety suddenly seemed far less problematic.
What do you do to keep your prayer or meditation focused on just that?