When engaging in contemplative prayer à la Keating or Main, or when meditating, the direction given is to eschew thoughts. Thinking happens. You cannot avoid, stop or squash it. Notice thoughts as they arise and let them go. It’s ok, it’s normal, it’s what the mind does, it is easy to get hooked, but don’t see this as failure. Simply come back to the breath, the word, the intention.
This is good advice: your thoughts are surface phenomena and you are seeking to open your heart to depth, the eternal, yourself, God; seeking to let go of seeking because what you seek is already here.
But often, at the beginning, because you have stopped other activities, you are free to remember thoughts, ideas, concerns, etc., that are important and you do not want to forget. There are items on your inner desk that are cluttering your mind.
seeking to let go of seeking because what you seek is already here
In this situation, it is ok to have a pad of paper to hand, or your favourite screen-based to-do app, and briefly to jot down what comes to mind that you don’t want to forget. Make sure you don’t get hooked. Just jot it down and come back to your prayer. Be mindful. See this as part of your spiritual practice. 10 minutes is enough to clear your desk of most clutter. Beyond that the anxious mind is constantly casting about and is not to be entertained.
(This is distinct from more extensive journalling, which can be helpful as a spiritual practice, as an awareness tool, to take an inventory of what is going on in this body today, to capture the process, so as not to forget insights and the touch of God.)
Monitor this. Does desk-clearing allow you the space to relax a little more and to give yourself to the prayer? All well and good. Clearing your desk is creating a space for God-and-self.
Or does one thought continue to lead to another? Is this just your mind’s unwillingness to let go? Then stop it! Step away from the to-do list!
Or are you overflowing with creative thoughts that need time? Then maybe (just maybe) this is your prayer. It’s an opportunity to make lemonade and hay. Make sure to reschedule your prayer.
How do you tell the difference? True creativity comes from other than the discursive mind and is itself prayer. While genius is 99% perspiration, and this 99% is not to intrude into your prayer – indeed prayer can be thought of as work of this sort, crucially important but not necessarily productive, creative or immediately consoling – the 1% inspiration that comes unbidden when you are busy (or un-busy) doing something else is not to be ignored.
As always, every prayer is an experiment. Over time ask the question: Does desk-clearing help me in what I want? Does it, in some small fashion, help me grow into God?