2020-08-31 Mindfulness of Thinking (1 of 5) Recognizing Thoughts
2:52PM Aug 31, 2020
So as we start, as I start this five day series, the focus of this week, I can say the theme is mindfulness of thinking.
And I think of it as building on last week's theme, the seven days we had on mindfulness of breathing. And thinking is a hugely important part of human life, and certainly should be respected and hopefully also appreciated. I mean, thinking is, the product of thinking is all around us. Civilization is a product of people's thoughts and what their their ideas they had and designs they had and inventions they had. And much of what we see in the so called civilized world is came through the vehicle of someone who was thinking about something. Sometimes for great benefits and sometimes not for such great benefit.
And without thinking, we would not be able to navigate the world, take care of ourselves, be safe. Make a life for ourselves, be rich relationships with people.
So thinking is an important part of life. But it's also a place of tremendous suffering. Thinking is, can be quite deleterious. The stories we tell ourselves the judgments we tell ourselves, some of them are quite debilitating, are quite undermining of our vitality and our joy and our happiness. Some of them are quite great fear, some of them depression, discouragement, all kinds of things.
So to learn about how to be mindful of thinking, so to begin, both not be caught in the grip of thinking, and to be able to see with greater clarity, but also to be able to think more clearly or more wisely in a beneficial ways, is one of the products, by products, of mindfulness practice.
So, this week, I'll focus on mindfulness of thinking. And as a beginning of this, that provides kind of the orientation or provides the material with we're working with and really, to see clearly what it is we're working with when we're doing mindfulness of thinking.
The first step is to clearly recognize that you're thinking. And there's something tricky about thinking that sometimes it doesn't really want to be recognized. It's almost as if thinking sometimes is so concerned with its own thought, its own ideas, that it just wants to kind of be left alone. So we can just kind of gallop off or do the thinking fully, or say it differently, that sometimes thinking is so alluring, so captivating, so commanding, that it just seems like it's easier just to kind of wander off in the thought and just think of think away than it is to step back and recognize I'm thinking, I'm thinking, there can even be a protest in the mind that the thinking is really important. I have to think this, I can't just step back and recognize them thinking. Everything needs to be there and the thinking has to be fully involved. And I have to think and gallop off we go.
And so it can be even sometimes quite disconcerting and disorienting to really learn the art of stepping back in the mind, or getting the overview enough of the mind to be able to see all this. I'm thinking, and I'm thinking about planning, I'm thinking about remembering or thinking, fantasy or thinking about my resentments, whatever it might be, that I'm having a conversation in my mind with people. I'm repeating the same conversation I had in my friend last week, over and over and over again, kind of to understand what happened to come back with a better answer. But I'm having a conversation and to step back and I like this language of stepping back. It's kind of metaphor kind of you have you're in a crowd of people, and you step out of the crowd for a little bit enough, three, four, ten feet away.
And not kind of be pulled into the stickiness of thinking or the compulsion of thinking over and over again. Because for many people, that's what they spend their life doing. For many people, before they do any kind of mindfulness practice. I think that thinking is given free rein and we just think whatever we think and we wander off and the mind just does what its thing is what it does. And sometimes we just follow along, we're kind of like, pulled by the nose by our thoughts. And the mind thinks and we follow along. And, and without any thought about it.
I've met people for whom mindfulness of thinking, recognizing that their thinking is completely foreign idea, they have no clue how to do that. And so whether it's that, that challenging or whether you can get some handle on the fact that you're thinking, I think that to begin to develop the skill, a little bit of strength in in recognizing what you're thinking when you're thinking of it is really foundational to all the other aspects of mindfulness of thinking that develops the mindfulness meditation helps us deep and deeper and deeper in the practice and so on.
One of the very simple exercises to do is tell yourself what you're thinking, you know, with can be with, you know, inner voice. Or it can even be if you're alone, maybe say it out loud to yourself. I'm thinking about lunch. I'm thinking about the news that I just read. I'm thinking about what my plans are. I'm thinking about my fantasies, I'm thinking about my complaints. I'm thinking. And sometimes by kind of, like someone like as if someone is asking you, what were you thinking just now? Then sometimes you can that kind of, kind of, I want to say, gross. Maybe that's not the best word. That kind of very general. Of course, maybe form of thinking that just simply names What's there to yourself. Independent of trying to meditate, develops a skill of learning to Oh, that's what I'm thinking about. That's what I'm thinking about.
I know a Buddhist teacher who, when people come to him and say that they have a lot of repetitive thinking, and they can't stop doing it. He asks them to count every time they do it through the day. And so then they come, some people have come back to him and said, Wow, I came to some high number like 325 times I kept thinking the same thing. And after the 326th time, I said this is ridiculous. Somehow it broke the trends or broke the, the stickiness the compulsion around it. Wow, this is phenomenal this many times. And so that's another way of recognizing, you know, just count. Okay, here I am. Thinking about sex again. 1, 2,3, maybe that's enough. And after that, you stop. Or maybe it's a lot more. Or maybe it's some other things present the resentment, resentments you have over and over and over again, and see how many times through a day such these kinds of thoughts go on and on.
And it is kind of also like taking an inventory of what we're thinking. And because if you get too, if you start doing it, so recognizing and seeing how repetitive they are, and how often they're certain, like top themes,
that's very instructive, like what are the top three things you think about through the day? Many times people just kind of go kind of sailing along and their thoughts without any reflection about it. And they have no idea that they're thinking the same thing over and over again, or that there's three major themes that keep revisiting over and over again.
One of the advantages of being on a retreat meditation retreat, because of the heightened attention to the present moment, and the attempt to try to be, you know, focusing on the breath, for example, people tend to notice their thinking a lot more. And it's a shock to some people to discover some of the common themes of their thoughts, that they had no idea how many of the thoughts were fear based. And until they actually started getting kind of an inventory, kind of a sense of the frequency in which, while it's happening again, it's happening again. And it's not like bad news to learn this about oneself. It's actually part of growing. It's happening anyway. And so rather than not knowing it, which is kind of dangerous, it's actually healthy and healing and beneficial to start recognizing, what is it about your thoughts, what's happening with them?
So one of the things we can learn when you start doing this kind of exercise is the attitudes we have about our thinking. And some people have adversarial relationships, thoughts, some people are afraid of their thoughts. Some people feel really like the important thoughts, I'd like more than the most important things going. Some people's relationship to thinking is their form of entertainment. And so they're very happy to think because they can get entertained. Some people it's an antidote to boredom or antidote to stress is to go into the entertainment center of the thinking mind. And some people's attitude is that we shouldn't be thinking.
I went, I once was up on retreat with another Buddhist teacher. We were practicing both of us. And he was a senior teacher to me. I was I wasn't a teacher myself yet. And there was an occasion for a little conversation. And I started, was going to ask for some advice about something I forget what it was. Might have been about being at the meditation center. And I started my sentence, what do you think about? And he didn't let me go any further. And he just looked at me and said, I try not to think. And I kind of thought that well, maybe on retreat, maybe that's okay. But that was a strange answer, I thought. That we don't have to be adversarial with thoughts. It's wonderful to have thoughts quiet. And it's still, it's wonderful to discover the deeper layers of how the mind works. That is obscured by a lot of discursive thinking.
But anyway, so the point being, you can sometimes as we start getting a handle and seeing what our thinking is about, and we'll start noticing our attitudes and beliefs about our thinking as well.
So I would encourage you for the next 24 hours as you go about your day, start recognizing what you're thinking about recognizing your thoughts, recognize that you're thinking. And you can maybe put a stopwatch on for every minute that really beeps and just say, oh, okay, that's what I was thinking. Or maybe you have a little journal you with you and you just write down every few minutes, you know what you were thinking about? Would you just say to yourself, okay, I'm thinking about that I'm thinking about that. And you might also spend some quality time actually thinking about your relationship to thinking, maybe talk to friends about what they've discovered about thinking or about your, what you're discovering about your thinking. So this kind of high end kind of overview of thinking as it goes along is it will be good preparation for the next four days as we go to kind of deeper and deeper into this topic and the background of all this is the idea that I had offered in the meditation session. If that if we can have a clear, calmer recognition of ourselves thinking, then sometimes the thinking begins to settle itself. And so part of this developing the skill to recognize thinking is so that we can use a calm, still aware awareness, recognition of thinking, to help quiet and settle the thinking mind partly so that we can see more clearly, and partly so we can think more clearly.
So I hope you enjoyed this. And I hope in the byproduct are the, one of the results of this week around thinking is that you become friends with your thinking and your thinking becomes your own friend.
So, thank you