23 April 2018

Thoughts about Thoughts

Every meditator learns, usually pretty quickly, just how saturated is their mind in random and arbitrary thoughts, imaginings, ponderings and speculations. It’s as if our minds have a mind of their own. To observe this in action, moment to moment, with interest, without grasping, is one of the key tasks of meditation. Why might this be time well spent?

Thought is a primitive form of action which, like all kinds of action, has consequences. Usually we are more concerned about the impact of our physical actions – what we say and do. But what about mental actions? Consider the thousands, if not millions, of habitual, repetitive thoughts that flit through consciousness each day, quietly clouding our judgement and influencing our perspectives on things?

And what about the innumerable likes and dislikes that get forged in the process, which mould themselves into subtle patterns, which in turn harden into attitudes and views about self, others and the world? Thoughts have consequences all right.

Watching the Wheels

Meditation is a powerful way of getting wise to the undercover operations of the discursive mind. ‘Mindfulness of thinking’ involves disengaging from unconscious tendencies to invest in thoughts and to construct fixed identities out of them.

When we sit quietly in bright awareness and observe the fabrications of this amazing, creative and, let’s be honest, frequently absurd mind, we are undermining its tendency to fixate neurotically on things. In turn, we gift ourselves a chance to intuit whether or not the mind, in this moment, has anything useful to say. Oftentimes, it doesn’t. Thoughts turn out to be dull repeats or gross distortions of reality churned out by a restless mind that doesn’t know when to stop.

We cannot know how to wisely respond to the mind’s latest broadcast or manoeuvre unless we catch its process in action – hence the value and necessity of paying attention in the present moment. Clearly witnessing our mental process brings with it the seeds of new and beneficial mental patterns, which are the fruit of meditation.

Greater clarity, a sense of inner agency and balance, more psychological flexibility, and better harnessing of your innate creativity – you get all this from just sitting quietly and watching what shows up within. It doesn’t really make sense, does it? That’s because your thinking mind doesn’t have all the answers. But try telling it that.

The Power of Practice

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