Meditation is often touted as a way to focus the mind and get rid of mental restlessness and stray thoughts. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a stray thought. The first time I really tried to mediate several years ago, I lay down on the floor and tried to clear my mind. Laying on the floor is not a proper position for meditation, I know, but it was the one where I could be the most comfortable and not be distracted by physical pain on top of everything else.
A scene from a movie came to mind and at first I chastised myself for this, but then I thought that maybe I should go deeper into this stray thought rather than trying to chase it away. It was a scene of violence and sadness, so pursuing the thought was actually harder than letting it go. Within minutes the scene changed and I saw another woman at another time in history who had suffered the same kind of violence and I knew that I was seeing myself. You may not believe in past lives, but I felt with certainty that this was another lifetime of my own.
From that point, I made a practice of pursuing stray thoughts more deeply, whether I was trying to meditate or just going about my life and trying to figure out the reason for one circumstance or another. I remembered a handful of other lifetimes, usually related to significant people in my current life. Although I know it’s not “real” meditation and I don’t spend much time thinking about past lives now, this has been a very useful process and helped me to understand my life.
There is probably a time for meditation practices that shut out all thoughts, and I am actively trying to learn that approach, but it is something I am still not very good at. All the same, I maintain the viewpoint that nothing is really random in life and that stray thoughts may actually be significant.