Author Topic: Thoughts during Meditation  (Read 916 times)

ma_

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Thoughts during Meditation
« on: May 12, 2020, 10:08:35 AM »
Hi,
I have been using Sam Harris' "Waking Up" app for just over half a year now and most of the time I notice thoughts only after they have arisen and faded (during which I have not noticed I was lost in thought). Usually the instruction is to bring your attention back to the breath once you realise you are lost in thought but usually I don't notice whilst I am thinking i.e. I notice I was lost in thought a few seconds after pondering the thought.
Any advice on how to notice thoughts better or does it just come with practice?

stillpointdancer

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2020, 12:15:41 PM »
When you realise that you are lost in thought, then return to the breath. I don't know the app, but I was taught that counting the breath helps. The problem is not that thoughts arise but that we need to develop a different relationship with them, that we accept them for what they are, thoughts that the mind throws up because it doesn't like it when we sit without them. Over time they will gradually fade, not to no thoughts but to something we can let go of easily and carry on with our meditation.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

NewPathForward

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2020, 04:11:05 PM »
Hi,
I have been using Sam Harris' "Waking Up" app for just over half a year now and most of the time I notice thoughts only after they have arisen and faded (during which I have not noticed I was lost in thought). Usually the instruction is to bring your attention back to the breath once you realise you are lost in thought but usually I don't notice whilst I am thinking i.e. I notice I was lost in thought a few seconds after pondering the thought.
Any advice on how to notice thoughts better or does it just come with practice?

Just by noticing that you were lost in thought previously, you are still developing awareness.  It is a gradual process.  I agree with stillpoint above, counting your breaths 1 through 10 and then resetting to 1 is a great practice, as you can easily tell when you're lost in thought because you've all of a sudden stopped counting or you've counted past 10  :D

I have been practicing for a couple months and one of my struggles has been accepting thoughts and gently returning my attention to sensations of breath rather than being hard on myself for having thoughts.  I remember hearing in one of my first Vipassana guided meditations, "Without the process of distraction from breath, there is no Vipassana".  I have since come to find that Vipassana is so, so much more than simply mindfulness of breath, but it is still my key practice at this point in time.

I wish you well, six months of consistent practice is very respectable.  I'm at two months myself.

Dhamma

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2020, 05:20:11 PM »
Just by noticing that you were lost in thought previously, you are still developing awareness. 

Absolutely!  That is awareness. And that means that you are meditating correctly.

What happens to me (and to many other people lol) is that I get obsessive and possessive with a thought, and cannot gently let it go.

It takes years of practice. But, remember, that every time we meditate correctly, it is a drop in the bucket towards enlightenment. 

We also can have periods where we think it's all a waste of time because we have emotional setbacks for whatever reason. This happens to experienced meditators. It goes to show you the power of the mind. But, don't let the silly mind tell you stories: Get back on the cushion and meditate as you always have.

Peace and enlightenment. 
You are already Buddha

ma_

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2020, 01:11:05 PM »
Thanks for the advice folks!

Katia

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2020, 12:43:56 AM »
I've been having a similar issue for a while.  I keep reading that I should "observe" my thoughts, but once I'm aware I'm thinking, I'm done thinking and there is nothing to observe.  I think this is twofold (at least for me):

1. As noted above, I become aware of the fact that I'm thinking only when I'm done with the thought... at which point there is no longer a thought to observe.  It's similar perhaps to being caught up in a tornado, or something that is fast-paced like driving really fast or something.  You are busy weathering the tornado's winds, or navigating your car while watching for obstacles, and you do not have time to "observe" what you are doing until it is over, because that thing is occupying all of your attention.  The thoughts are taking over completely.  And once I realize I've had the thoughts, it is when they're already done, so I return to the breath and don't see a point in trying to bring the thoughts back to see what I can figure out about them.  (After the fact I can pretty quickly figure out a reason why I had the thought-- whether it's a theme that comes up with me often in meditation, I can see where several thoughts tied together in a chain, etc., but while the thinking is going on, no analysis.)

2. As soon as I become aware I'm thinking, then I am not longer thinking, but *thinking about* thinking, if that makes sense.  I may have been distracted by thinking about what to make for dinner.  As soon as I realize I'm doing that instead of meditating, then I am no longer thinking "maybe I should make gaprao for dinner, the basil plant needs a trim..."  I am thinking, "Oh, I was thinking about what to make for dinner."  The thought is gone, so I cannot observe it (you could say I could then observe my thought about thinking, but this is pretty circular and pretty soon I'd be lost in "Oh, I am thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking... Oh, and now I am thinking thinking about about thinking about thinking about thinking..."").

It seems to me that observing one's thoughts almost requires a person to be able to do split their mind and do two things at once-- continue thinking, while also thinking about this thinking...

Middleway

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2020, 01:58:21 AM »
Noticing thoughts in real time requires well developed mindfulness. Try noticing the arising of the next thought instead of looking back. Wait for the next thought like a guard at the gate would wait for the next visitor.
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Matthew

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2020, 02:14:18 AM »
I've been having a similar issue for a while.  I keep reading that I should "observe" my thoughts, but once I'm aware I'm thinking, I'm done thinking and there is nothing to observe.


You are aware of the thought "I've been thinking". For now observe that, then return to noticing sensation in the body as you breathe in and out.

Quote
As soon as I become aware I'm thinking, then I am not longer thinking, but *thinking about* thinking, if that makes sense. 

Yes, see above.

Quote
It seems to me that observing one's thoughts almost requires a person to be able to do split their mind and do two things at once-- continue thinking, while also thinking about this thinking...

Almost ... what will happen as you continue to develop calm, concentration and insight, is that you will come to an intermediate point where you see the thought arising and falling, so not exactly thinking about thinking, but being aware/mindful of thinking. This is called the development of "the watcher" in some teachings.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

dharma bum

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2020, 12:37:50 PM »
Quote
And once I realize I've had the thoughts, it is when they're already done, so I return to the breath and don't see a point in trying to bring the thoughts back to see what I can figure out about them.  (After the fact I can pretty quickly figure out a reason why I had the thought-- whether it's a theme that comes up with me often in meditation, I can see where several thoughts tied together in a chain, etc., but while the thinking is going on, no analysis.)

Me too. This was my first observation about meditation years ago. When the mind slows down, I can tell that thought-1 led to thought-10 through a chain of associated thoughts. Negative thoughts get bunched together. If I am having difficulties at work then I am reminded of difficulties at work in my past. So I have learnt some tricks. If I want to alter my mood to a more positive one, there are certain people I think of, such as children in my extended family, and that puts me in a better mood by a similar linking of positive thoughts. Sometimes I recollect some moments in my past retreats filled with peace and that can alter my mood too.

Quote
It seems to me that observing one's thoughts almost requires a person to be able to do split their mind and do two things at once-- continue thinking, while also thinking about this thinking...

There is the awareness thread and all the other stuff and we switch back and forth. The awareness thread is just like other threads and in course of time, it gets more and more space in the head. At least that's the theory I think.
Mostly ignorant

Katia

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2020, 12:49:28 AM »
Noticing thoughts in real time requires well developed mindfulness. Try noticing the arising of the next thought instead of looking back. Wait for the next thought like a guard at the gate would wait for the next visitor.

Yes, I have done that before... but then, of course, realizing it makes the thought go away, and I'm not sure if this is the aim?  It's not really that I "force" myself back to the breath; it's more like a realization of "oops, you're about to wander off there."  It's the equivalent of walking down a road "on autopilot" and realizing you're about to miss your turn, so you sort of automatically make the turn more than "forcing" yourself onto that side path, if that makes sense.  (Or, I suppose I'm "forcing" it at a deep enough level that it doesn't feel "forced" on the surface.)


Almost ... what will happen as you continue to develop calm, concentration and insight, is that you will come to an intermediate point where you see the thought arising and falling, so not exactly thinking about thinking, but being aware/mindful of thinking. This is called the development of "the watcher" in some teachings.

I *sort of* get this, but... if I am able to become aware of the thought as it comes, then it goes away immediately.  Is that okay?


Quote
And once I realize I've had the thoughts, it is when they're already done, so I return to the breath and don't see a point in trying to bring the thoughts back to see what I can figure out about them.  (After the fact I can pretty quickly figure out a reason why I had the thought-- whether it's a theme that comes up with me often in meditation, I can see where several thoughts tied together in a chain, etc., but while the thinking is going on, no analysis.)

Me too. This was my first observation about meditation years ago. When the mind slows down, I can tell that thought-1 led to thought-10 through a chain of associated thoughts. Negative thoughts get bunched together. If I am having difficulties at work then I am reminded of difficulties at work in my past. So I have learnt some tricks. If I want to alter my mood to a more positive one, there are certain people I think of, such as children in my extended family, and that puts me in a better mood by a similar linking of positive thoughts. Sometimes I recollect some moments in my past retreats filled with peace and that can alter my mood too.

Yes.  My thoughts often tend to come in a chain (I naturally have a somewhat-active mind.  At times it can be interesting to follow this chain of thoughts and see the strange places it goes and the strange things that trigger certain thoughts.  Sherlock Holmes would have a field day).  Pleasant thoughts can come in waves too, of course, as well as the negative ones.  And, I can tell by now that there are certain subjects I can get caught on sometimes if my mind wanders during meditation-- oddly enough, sometimes I get caught in sort of thinking *about* meditation-type topics ("hmm, I should order this new incense I've been wanting to try" or "you know, I ought to have a proper meditation cushion, but it seems silly to buy something else when this pile of blankets is working just fine for me plus that would just give me something new I need to store...").  Sometimes it's subjects meditation makes me think of (meditation --> Buddhism --> remembering my time living in Thailand, etc.).  (And then of course it's simply whatever thoughts are inclined to be in my mind at the time.)  Knowing the subjects can help me to head off the thoughts at the pass, at times.  "Ah, no, you're starting to think about the local Thai temple and you're going to go wandering off for a few minutes..."

I'm trying to learn not to follow thoughts, though, not even to alter my mood (at least not in meditation; it can be useful at other times), as my aim in meditation is to try to learn to *quiet* my mind which has been sort of fragmented from years of a job of multitasking and constant interruption (the effect is rather like ADD, though I read that there's no such thing as adult-onset ADD, but you can see where mindfulness and a calm mind can be helpful to such problems).  I'm good at following a train of thoughts as I've never been a stranger to deep thinking, but it's turning that off that can be problematic for me, even if the string of thoughts is shallow rather than deep.

I have much to learn and understand.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2020, 12:51:32 AM by Katia »

Middleway

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2020, 10:36:38 PM »
Noticing thoughts in real time requires well developed mindfulness. Try noticing the arising of the next thought instead of looking back. Wait for the next thought like a guard at the gate would wait for the next visitor.

Yes, I have done that before... but then, of course, realizing it makes the thought go away, and I'm not sure if this is the aim?  It's not really that I "force" myself back to the breath; it's more like a realization of "oops, you're about to wander off there."  It's the equivalent of walking down a road "on autopilot" and realizing you're about to miss your turn, so you sort of automatically make the turn more than "forcing" yourself onto that side path, if that makes sense.  (Or, I suppose I'm "forcing" it at a deep enough level that it doesn't feel "forced" on the surface.)

Mindfulness is the faculty of the mind that keeps your mind stay on task at hand. If you are on autopilot, it is your mindfulness that brings you back to the task. So, if you are sitting on the cushion with intention to observe your breathing sensations, it is your mindfulness that keeps you stay on that task. When you get lost in thoughts, it is your mindfulness that gets you back on the task at hand.

So, if you change your intention to observe thoughts, then your mindfulness allows you to observe thoughts rise and fall. Note that thoughts are dry. Meaning, they arise and pass away instantly. If you grasp a thought, it is not the current thought you are grasping. It the next thought and the thought train that you are grasping.

Feelings are a bit more sticky. They cause sensations in the body more prominently than thoughts although thoughts can trigger emotions.

So, if you want to watch thoughts rise and fall, make that a task and your mindfulness will cooperate. It’s funny how breath becomes much more prominent if you want to watch thoughts. Anyways, experiment this way and learn to watch the mind. You will find out the mind works at many levels. The inner world is a very fascinating world indeed!
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Thanisaro85

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2020, 03:51:21 AM »


Mindfulness is the faculty of the mind that keeps your mind stay on task at hand. If you are on autopilot, it is your mindfulness that brings you back to the task. So, if you are sitting on the cushion with intention to observe your breathing sensations, it is your mindfulness that keeps you stay on that task. When you get lost in thoughts, it is your mindfulness that gets you back on the task at hand.

So, if you change your intention to observe thoughts, then your mindfulness allows you to observe thoughts rise and fall. Note that thoughts are dry. Meaning, they arise and pass away instantly. If you grasp a thought, it is not the current thought you are grasping. It the next thought and the thought train that you are grasping.

Feelings are a bit more sticky. They cause sensations in the body more prominently than thoughts although thoughts can trigger emotions.

So, if you want to watch thoughts rise and fall, make that a task and your mindfulness will cooperate. It’s funny how breath becomes much more prominent if you want to watch thoughts. Anyways, experiment this way and learn to watch the mind. You will find out the mind works at many levels. The inner world is a very fascinating world indeed!

Autopilot is the closest word to describe how living beings think or move. We wanted to go to the washroom, the body just move off and finished the business as it intended.

And the ways described how to observe the thoughts is clear and good too.

Maybe we should collect and put together some of those good pointers/replies from different members and staffs and pin them in this platform. A lot of gems here in this forum.🙂
A Mind Unshaken, when touches by worldy matter, sorrowless, secure and dustless, this is the ultimate great blessing~ Mangala Sutta

Dhamma

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2020, 03:19:13 AM »
@ Middleway:

Your last post was phenomenal: pure wisdom!  We all need to be applying this knowledge.

(Not trying to brag you up, though we are all to stay humble LOL).


You are already Buddha

Laurent

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2020, 12:40:13 PM »
You may observe the process of arising and passing away, but not the content of thoughts. It means that you should observe thoughts and ignore them at the same time, which is understandable when you distinguish between thoughts process and thoughts content.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2020, 01:49:24 PM by Laurent »

Matthew

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Re: Thoughts during Meditation
« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2020, 03:28:03 AM »

Almost ... what will happen as you continue to develop calm, concentration and insight, is that you will come to an intermediate point where you see the thought arising and falling, so not exactly thinking about thinking, but being aware/mindful of thinking. This is called the development of "the watcher" in some teachings.

I *sort of* get this, but... if I am able to become aware of the thought as it comes, then it goes away immediately.  Is that okay?


Yes. Your awareness will expand as you develop calm and insight. It is what it is at any point in time.

Quote

I have much to learn and understand.

You're not alone in that :)
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

 

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