What can I do when my thoughts start racing?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In general, thoughts are always there. A thought arises, and if one observes it one realizes that it just continues to flow like a stream, like waves that come and go. It is interesting when they are there; it is also good when they are not there.

You shouldn’t take thoughts too seriously. Thoughts, concepts, and ideas are useful if you have to learn something or apply your intelligence. Whenever you aren’t engaged in work that requires full concentration, you can disconnect the stream of thoughts from the immediate actions.

For example, while riding a bicycle one doesn’t think, “Now first I have to move one foot here and the other foot there, and at the same time I have to hold the handle bar and shift into the right gear,” and so on. Instead, one just sits on the bike, trusts the wisdom of the body, and rides it. If one does what lies in front of one’s nose and the thoughts continue in parallel, then the actions become more spontaneous, effortless, and useful.

Body, speech, and mind contain a great amount of spontaneous, intuitive wisdom and energy. You are a Buddha; you have everything in you; you are connected with everything.

Thoughts are very good if you can switch them on and off as you like. Then you think what you want and turn them off again when you have thought enough—you are spontaneous and effortless. The best teachers for this are the surfers on the coasts of California, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. They lie on their boards in the water. For a long time there are no waves. Then a wave appears that would bring them only halfway to the shore, and another comes that would break the board. Then finally, the right wave appears and the happy surfer gets up and rides in. He doesn’t hate one wave and isn’t attached to another, but instead he simply does what’s possible. And when we live in this way, the abilities and powers inside us come to the fore. I also learn a lot in this way about patience.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to turn off the thoughts when they become too many. But there is a good method which Milarepa also used centuries ago. He spoke the syllable “PEI.” In the very moment one says PEI aloud or inwardly, the thoughts diffuse and are gone.

Another way to free yourself from thoughts is to imagine the lama on top of your head. The lama appears as if made of water, and you let this water flow into yourself. This way you become the lama himself, who in our case is always the Karmapa. Imagine that you yourself are Karmapa and try to hold this perception and feeling as well as possible.

If important thoughts come up that distract you from what you have to concentrate on, then you can write them down. Since we Westerners react strongly to written things, it is very helpful to use notes to keep from being distracted from what is important in the moment.