"meditation on thoughts?" It is any type of meditation in which we
examine the thoughts which pass through our mind, and we examine the
part of the mind which creates those thoughts.
benefits from meditation on thoughts.
We learn about ourselves. Some thoughts merely pass through;
others intrigue us, or they arouse our emotions, and thus we dwell
on them. As we study these thoughts, we learn about ourselves --
our attachments, desires, fears, fascinations, habits, values,
We discover the subtle thoughts which we usually do not
perceive. We see how they feed into our major train of thought,
with their unconscious impulses, motivations, decision-making, and
other processes. Thus we become more conscious of other elements
which contribute to the "thinking."
We learn about the functioning of the mind in its natural
state, when it creates thoughts without conscious interference,
disruption, and conceptual overlays. Buddhists call this state
"the natural mind" or "the ordinary mind" -- and, although that
might seem "ordinary," it is said to be a trait of enlightenment.
As we survey the thought-process impersonally, we have an
opportunity to disengage from it and thus to experience
technique of meditation on thoughts. We can use some of these
concepts and guidelines even when we are not doing a formal "sitting
meditation"; obviously, it is possible to be aware of our thoughts
while we are performing our daily activities, e.g., housework,
driving, conversing, etc.
We do not try to stop the thought process. It is a natural
function of the mind which occurs continually. If we attempt to
squelch our thoughts (before they arrive, or after they
arrive), the "trying" is just another thought -- one which creates
tension and a turbulence and a distraction from the meditation
itself. We can allow thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations to
arise; everything can be used as a part of our meditation.
We allow ourselves to be aware of phenomena other than our
thoughts. Those phenomena include:
External sounds. The sound of crickets and the meditation
bell are incorporated into the meditation, particularly as we
attain a state in which the terms "external" and "internal"
lose their meaning. We discover that even when an event occurs
"externally," our experience of it is totally within ourselves.
For example, if we hear the sound of a telephone's ring, we
observe it in the same manner in which we would observe a
thought; after all, what we are experiencing is not the
external sound, nor the sound waves striking our ear drums, nor
the nerve impulses traveling to the brain, but rather -- at the
end of that physical process, or perhaps coinciding with it --
a mere impression in the mind.
Phenomena which accompany the thoughts. As an individual
thought arises, we can observe the corresponding changes in our
emotions, our energy, our muscles, our body's chemistry (e.g.,
the release of adrenaline), etc.
We can be aware of the thoughts when they first arrive. If we
are aware from the beginning, we can watch the progression in
which an individual thought (and the related psychological
activities) would proceed mechanically into an affiliation with
desire and finally into stimulus and physical action.
We can allow the thoughts to remain in their prereflective
state. This is the state in which a thought exists as a simple
independent entity. "Reflection" is the procedure in which we
would identify, interpret, associate, judge, react, or control;
i.e., we "think about our thinking," and we "lose ourselves"
(i.e., lose our mindfulness) as we pursue the thoughts toward a
resolution. Prereflection lets us stay in the moment of pure
observation; we add nothing, because the thought is complete in
itself, and it is only our further conceptualizing about the
thought which makes it seem inadequate -- but it is the
conceptualizing itself which is limited and limiting. An example
of a prereflective thought is "bird" or "sound" if we hear a chirp
outside. We can then release the thought. But if we reflect, we
might speculate on the type of bird, or we might wonder whether
our bird feeder is full, or we might feel annoyed at the supposed
"distraction." In our everyday life, reflection is a vital mode
for particular purposes (e.g., analytical problem-solving), but in
this type of meditation, it is a departure from our aim.
We can observe the impersonal nature of the thoughts. In one
sense, these are our thoughts; we are responsible for them
-- as a result of prior thoughts, mental habits, beliefs which we
have accepted, and the contents of our archetypal fields. But, for
the purpose of exploration, we can select an impersonal
viewpoint: (1) the thoughts themselves are autonomous "objects" in
the mental world, and (2) the thought-process is an automatic
mechanical operation which obeys dynamics and procedures which are
not controllable by conscious will. From this perspective, we
allow the thoughts to "think themselves," rather than tying
ourselves to the thoughts as "my thoughts." While meditating, we
can ask ourselves, "Who is thinking?" or "Who is observing these
thoughts?" As we learn about the impersonal nature of thoughts, we
become free from them in various ways:
We realize that we do not have to conduct the action which
they would spur. For example, a thought about food is merely an
impersonal thought; it is not something which we must act out.
We realize that we do not have to respond emotionally to
them. For example, a thought about a controversial topic is,
again, merely an impersonal thought; it is not necessarily
connected to any particular emotional reaction.
We realize that we do not have to define ourselves
according to the thoughts which we think. For example, a
temporary selfish thought does not mean that we must adopt the
self-image that we are a selfish person. As we study our
thoughts, we realize that some of those thoughts contradict our
self-image (as a nice person, or an aggressive person, or a shy
person); thus we must either (1) repress those contradictory
thoughts, or (2) enlarge our concept of who we are. Eventually,
the contradictions compel us to give up the concept of
"self-concept" altogether; instead, we see patterns of
behavior, along with many exceptions to the patterns -- and we
also find a transcendental self (i.e., the soul) which is
separate from the patterns altogether. Thus, we are free to
explore our permanent spiritual identity beyond the
ever-changing flow of thoughts rather than identifying with any
of those thoughts.
We can accept the thoughts with a neutral attitude. We are
observing the thoughts themselves; we are not judging them ("That
is a nasty thought"), or reacting to them ("I don't like that") or
identifying with them ("How could I have such a terrible
thought?"), or trying to control or change or censor them ("I will
not permit unpleasant thoughts"), or attaching to them ("I want
some pleasant thoughts"), or associating them ("That thought leads
me to think about ..."), or interpreting them ("What does that
thought imply?"). If those thoughts of judgment, reaction,
control, attachment, association, or interpretation do arise, they
are just more thoughts which we accept impartially as a part of
our meditation. (Acceptance doesn't mean liking something; it
means accepting the reality of it.) In meditation, we develop a
"choiceless awareness," objectively recognizing each thought as
having an equal importance (or unimportance); it doesn't matter
whether a thought pertains to spirit or our car or the dog we saw
yesterday. Only with this neutrality can we perceive our thoughts
candidly and simply, to understand what they really are. In
thought meditation, this acceptance is called "spaciousness"; we
allow "space" around each thought.
We can observe the progression of thoughts. Thoughts tend to
lead from one to another. The sequence might proceed in this
manner (very quickly, in most cases): (1) We identify the topic of
the thought. (2) We search our memories, to determine whether we
traditionally "like or dislike" that topic. (3) Based upon the
liking or disliking, we experience desire or aversion (which is a
"desire to avoid"). (4) We have an intention (a "will") to act
upon this desire. (5) We plot a means of securing the object of
desire; the "plotting" occurs in our analytical function, or our
intuition, or our habits. (6) We make a physical action to execute
this plan. This entire sequence can occur on a "mindless"
unconscious level; for example, we can scratch an itch without
realizing that we are doing so. When we become aware of the
progression as it is happening, we can disengage ourselves from
the automatic activity; the step in which to break the progression
is at the point of "intention" (i.e., step #4) where we can
intervene and decide not to act at all (or we can override the
habitual response in order to re-direct the will toward the goal
which we choose). Generally, during meditation, we simply observe,
without trying to change this course. But because we are not
reacting, our mental habits are not being reinforced as strongly,
so we can more-easily change those habits to ones which are more
productive -- and, to an extent, we can rise out of the automatic
"habit mode" entirely to experience a style of alert,
intuition-based thinking which is responsive to the needs and
dynamics of the moment.
We can notice the empty state between thoughts. Thoughts are
individual events in the mind, like separate clouds floating by in
the sky. Between the end of one thought and the beginning of
another, there is a brief moment which we can perceive by attuning
to the cadence of our thoughts -- their arising, lingering, and
departure. When we detect that open space between thoughts, we can
enter it and sustain it by being calmly attentive to it. Here, the
mind is in its natural state of pure consciousness.
We can allow the thoughts to leave, without clinging to them.
This is the difference between "thoughts" and actively "thinking":
when we have thoughts, they originate, and they linger for a
moment, and then they pass -- but we might define "thinking" as
the process of grabbing a thought and building onto it with the
actions described previously -- the judgment, reaction,
identification, control, association, or interpretation. During
meditation, we simply and delicately observe a thought, giving it
just enough attention to notice it but not enough to retain it and
energize it. We stop fighting unwanted thoughts (and ourselves),
because we know that the thoughts will go away eventually (at the
end of their cycle) if we simply leave them alone. Some meditators
view this sequence in various types of analogy:
The thoughts are viewed as logs floating down a stream --
individually going by, with no connection to one another or to
the meditator, with the only permanence being the stream itself
(which is analogous to the field of consciousness in which the
thoughts play themselves out).
The thoughts are viewed as the single frames of movie film,
in contrast to the usual illusion of continuous action.
We can observe the process by which thoughts leave a "trace"
of themselves in our archetypal fields. When we think a thought, a
part of its substance remains in the field of the archetype which
we are pondering. We can also be aware of the energy which
remains with that thought; for example, the thought might be
charged with the emotional energy of love. Our "karma" includes
these habitual thought patterns which have been created by our
recurring desires and fascinations; a particular thought might
appear because we have expressed a "dislike" or a "like" or
another reaction to similar previous thoughts. That prior personal
reaction left an energetic charge which now causes related
thoughts to appear; thus, there is no point in trying to stifle
any topic of thought, since it is simply the expression of our
previously created karma. In the meditative process of detached
observation, we notice thoughts without personal reaction; thus we
do not create additional charged thoughts, and we allow the
previous charges to dissipate such that we gain freedom from those
habitual thought patterns. Of course, we create other habits,
because one of the mind's functions is to create habits, but we
might find that any new habits become less ingrained because our
new approach to situations is more spontaneous, creative, and
intuitively responsive to that particular situation rather than
automatic in its reliance upon existing habits (thus deepening
those existing habits).
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