Ah, those to-do lists. Thoughts about all the "stuff" we need to do are a special part of meditation — especially for us modern folk.
We sit, and we focus on our breath. We do so for approximately 25 seconds before we focus on what I like to call the mental choreography of our day. We create the list(s), run through the moves, shuffle, reschedule and post reminders — including the reminder to meditate. Then we return to the breath.
Mental choreography is often viewed as a problem and hindrance, something that gets in the way of the meditative "good stuff." But, as usual, the problem is only a problem when we perceive it to be.
Planning for the future (including the movements of the day ahead) is a part of our brain’s job description. It knows that rehearsal is important for performance and rehearse it will do. Such planning is hardwired into the most ancient structures of the brain. In fact, it’s all part of how the brain copes with the uncertainty of the future. When we understand, and accept, that (and why) the mind will wander off onto our to-do lists, we can learn to accept both moments of mental choreography as well as the moments in between.
Here are a few helpful hints for those of us who are gifted choreographers:
1. Remember that there's nothing wrong with your mind or your senses.
It's the job of the senses to perceive. It is the job of the mind to process what is perceived, to plan and to remember. Thank it for doing its job, then return to the current task at hand (meditation).
2. Accept both thinking and moments of stillness.
Ride this rhythm. Every moment you realize you were lost in "thinking" is a moment of mindful awareness. Know that you are meditating.
3. See thoughts (and ‘to do lists’) as tools.
These are useful tools for practicing awareness and acceptance.
Thoughts themselves are not a problem. The stickiness comes with the attachment in which we get hooked to the emotional content of the thought. Practice "hovering." Hover above the story, above the thoughts. Unhook from the story line, then simply observe the unfolding story below. As soon as you can, make your way back to your breath.
5. Schedule some real choreography time.
Perhaps you do need to dedicate some (or more) time to actively managing your time and organizing your life. If so, book it in. Make it a regular part of your day or week. Then, during meditation (if you need to) you can remind yourself that you can think about your to-do list later.