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Meditation On Thoughts

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  1. What is "meditation on thoughts?"  
  2. The benefits from meditation on thoughts.
  3. The technique of meditation on thoughts.  

What is "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.

The benefits from meditation on thoughts.

  1. 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, etc.
  2. 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."
  3. 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.
  4. As we survey the thought-process impersonally, we have an opportunity to disengage from it and thus to experience consciousness itself.

The 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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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