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Thinking about meditating while meditating.

RefugeeRefugee San Francisco Explorer

Hello meditators,

I am contending with what I expect to be a common difficulty in meditation. My mind is highly analytical. I am almost always processing information and fitting it into my framework of understanding, generating hypotheses, and adjusting theories to fit new data. The process is ceaseless. Not an hour goes by when I do not continually work to update my understand of my own consciousness, which is the central question that drives me in all pursuits.

The difficult I face when meditating is thus predictable. I am analyzing and thinking about meditation while trying to meditate, which is antithetical to the purpose. Focusing on the breath is difficult; I can sustain it for a few moments before I am once again carried away in thought. Even when my mind feels relatively "idle," there is a great deal of processing taking place. It's relentless. I have described my mind to others as a thunderstorm; my romantic companion describes it as a river. The common theme between these two metaphors is volume.

I nevertheless persist with the exercise and sit for at least twenty minutes. If I cannot stop thoughts or step away from them sufficiently to be mindful of the breath, then I try to observe the thoughts as they pass, getting a sense for their general shape, their source, and otherwise their essential nature. My practice feels undisciplined, however, because it seemingly lacks consistent focus.

In terms of technique, I've tried multiple: counting the intake and outtake of breaths, visualization, and assessing the length of each inhalation and exhalation (1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5). With each of these techniques, I am unable to maintain consistent focus for long.

I tried this Muse headband gimmick, which is an EEG device that provides real time feedback on your mindstate in order to assist in deepening meditation practice. I think it might be counterproductive, though, because I find myself paying attention to the feedback and trying to "game" the system rather than focusing my attention on my breath as I should. I am leaning towards dispensing with this experiment and returning to the traditional methods with which I began.

I am open to and grateful for any feedback, tips, resources, or thoughts of any kind that anyone would like to offer.

Comments

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    It takes time to re-train many years of letting the mind run amuck. The method I use is to sit and breathe, but when a thought arises and I noticed I have followed it, I say "thinking" and go back to my breath. After years, some days go quite well (few reminders needed) and other times it is constant for my whole practice. The brain thinks. That's it's job. It is up to 'us' to determine that just because it's churning out factory thoughts doesn't mean we should give them our attention. The other thing that works is a cloud visual, where I imagine the thought in a cloud and floating away.

    elcra1golobsterRefugee
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    <3

    You could try:

    • Led meditations. That is where you follow somone elses focus.
    • Walking meditation. Following the attention to sensation
    • A koan. For example, 'what is the thinker?'.
    • Meditate with an online group, for example trealeaf.com or https://insighttimer.com/
    • Send breath or metta, light to your thoughts. Themed thinking.
    • Shingon practices. For example staring at statues, elements, letters or other symbols.
    • Journal the thoughts. They may just be attention starved ...
    • Advise yourself. In other words out think your thoughts ...

    As far as I am concerned, just daily sitting is noticing or attention to mara/mind/arisings. What you are attempting to do is 'not meditate'. Very well. Metta to just sitting 'not meditating' mind ...

    elcra1goShoshin
  • RefugeeRefugee San Francisco Explorer

    Thank you both for the feedback.

    The method I use is to sit and breathe, but when a thought arises and I noticed I have followed it, I say "thinking" and go back to my breath.

    I was introduced to this technique in guided meditation, and I've found it useful. I struggle with moderately severe depression -- thankfully under control at the moment -- and the noting technique has allowed me to give myself some distance from ruminating thoughts. It doesn't stop them, but I don't become them quite so easily.

    As far as I am concerned, just daily sitting is noticing or attention to mara/mind/arisings. What you are attempting to do is 'not meditate'. Very well. Metta to just sitting 'not meditating' mind ...

    It took me a while to process this. What I think it means is that, in effect, I'm trying too hard. I am expecting a specific outcome from the experience and consciously trying to achieve that outcome. There is no wrong way to meditate. In fact, I am not meditating, I am just sitting. As distractions arise, I observe them. Nothing more.

    Journal the thoughts. They may just be attention starved ...

    This is probably true. I have volumes and volumes of thought that go unexpressed. Perhaps I need to let them out.

    These are all good things for me to chew on. Thanks again.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Be patient. My preference is to stick with breath-counting: Each time you feel yourself drifting away from the counting -- eg. 1, 2, 3, 4, I want a hamburger -- return immediately to one and begin again. It is infuriating, at first, to find how undisciplined the intellect can be. Do it anyway.

    As Swami Vivekananda observed, "The mind [he meant intellect] is a good servant and a poor master." Just keep on keeping on and a little at a time, the intellectual mind, which never has had a very good batting average at solving life's serious problems (Eg. if I'm so smart, how come I'm not happy?") will run out of steam. Just be patient. Courage, patience and doubt are your great allies.

    Go ahead, be as smart as you like. That and a couple of dollars will get you a bus ride. Just be patient.

    lobsteryagrRefugee
  • elcra1goelcra1go Edinburgh, Scotland New

    I was the same for a good while- I think when I started meditating I read so much on the subject- I was sitting there telling myself- Watch the breath... be aware of the Rising/Falling of the stomach- there is a sound, label as 'hearing', this book said this.. and so on. I was analysing every little thing. Then I realised the best thing you can do is just 'Let go'- I was over thinking techniques and putting pressure on myself, which was doing me no good.
    Now I start with Metta loving kindness meditation, repeating the metta just snow-ploughs right through the distracting thoughts and I finds helps put a rhythm to my breathing, then move onto Samatha and put my intention on my breathing - then Vipassana which I try to just observe the thoughts and distractions that come up... Try to, because I do still find myself wandering away and realise- feck, I've been thinking about 90s cartoons for the last 10 mins... But I feel the difference is now I'm not too hard on myself- I just go back to metta...

    Good luck x

    lobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @Refugee it won't happen overnight ...but it will eventually happen...And when it does it will make itself known, but at first you may not be aware of it...

    The next time you sit, sit with the determination/purpose of only thinking about meditation and every time the mind becomes charmed by other thought patterns, bring it back to thinking about meditation ...Eventually there will be a realisation that meditation is actually taking place...Things will fall into place.... Peripheral awareness will gradually charm the charmer ....

    Bearing in mind What we resist will persist

    And as @lobster wisely mentioned...(getting down to the nitty gritty)

    A koan. For example, 'what is the thinker?'.

    "I thought that "I" was in charge of all the thinking until I had such a terrible thought
    If there's an "I" doing all the thinking, then why am "I" at times quite distraught ?

    If this were true then why am "I" not thinking happy thoughts all the time?
    But as it stands "I" don't do this (well not according to this rhyme) :wink:

    After "meditating" on this for a while, I came to a epiphany of sorts
    If there's no "I" doing the thinking, could it be just another thought thinking these thoughts ?"

    "I am just a thought "thinking" that "I am" just a thought"

    lobsterRefugeenamarupa
  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    Prepare the mind. Prepare the field of practice. Recitation, mantra and metta. Now you are ready. Not too fast or too slow.

    lobsterRefugee
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited August 23

    In fact, I am not meditating, I am just sitting. As distractions arise, I observe them. Nothing more.

    How pure and hard is that? This 'I' is a gibbering idiot, a distracted flow of monkey madness ... We can not meditate but we can just sit. Perhaps with breath counting. Forced attention, metta or body sensation awareness, yoga nidra style ...
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_nidra

    Breath in. Breath out. More noting, more nothing ...

    But I feel the difference is now I'm not too hard on myself- I just go back to metta...

  • BodhiTzuBodhiTzu Among the trees and flowers New

    Focusing on my breaths helped me.

    What helps me even more are guided meditations.

    • Easy Everyday Meditations by Sue Fuller
    • Easy Everyday Mindfulness by Sue Fuller
    • Guided Meditations by Jack Kornfield

    These are deeper:

    • The Inner Art of Meditation by Jack Kornfield
    • Still the Mind by Alan Watts. A classic that I really enjoy.
  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    Have you looked into chanting? Nothing calms me more than the Nembutsu. I also reach out to Avolakitesvera in times of emotional distress.

    Namu Amida butsu.... om mani padme hum...Namu Amida butsu.... om mani padme hum...Namu Amida butsu.... om mani padme hum...Namu Amida butsu.... om mani padme hum...

    No time to think about thoughts. I let my self become a vessel for the sacred words. No worries. Until I go back to "I"....then I chant again.

    Namu Amida butsu.... om mani padme hum...

    Refugee
  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    Addendum: I too suffer from over thinking and analyzing. Chanting has helped with that. I can analyse how it works in the chant itself, something apart from me but inside of me as well. Coming from the inside out.

    Some chants have a devotional spin to it. I am a Pure Land Buddhists. There are many other chants available though if that is not your cup of tea slash Dharma door.

    Refugee
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Chanting that @kannon mentions is good. Here is my page on how it can work ...
    http://yinyana.tumblr.com/post/57234975984/buddhist-mantra-faqs

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited August 23

    Just reading half of the original post for me sometimes I perceive signals of 'stop'...

    This fits with peaceful philosophy of stop, calm, rest, heal of TNH who is a kind of a zen buddhist thich chant hanh

    Analyzing that I would say that if just feeling the body happens for awhile that doesn't mean important thoughts won't come later and you can do that. You can watch yourself trying and feeling whatever you are trying to do and then that's done. And then analyze.

    BodhiTzu
  • namarupanamarupa Veteran
    edited August 23

    A "beginner's mind" is the anecdote for an analytical mind. It might help a little to notice when you're being analytical, but don't do anything other than watch. The analytical mind is the same as the "monkey mind", and you would deal with it the same way.

    It's like having a task of not jumping off the raft no matter how rough the waters get. You have to clench to it at times to survive, but keep in mind that its not made for clenching on to.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @genkaku said:
    Be patient.

    One time I was in such a monkey minded, busy, agitated mind state I ended up in a local Theravada monastery class doing walking meditation. So frantic, incessant, frenzied was my state, even my walking was too fast ...

    Very kindly the abbot took me by the arm and walked slowly and patiently with me. I could not rush.

    Doing stuff at half speed physically is a practice that can slow ones pace ... in time. Now I do walking meditation so slowly if in a circle, I slow everyone down. Kind of a practice jam ... :3

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran
    edited August 26

    @Refugee, have you tried focusing on the spaces between thoughts yet?

    Keeping on with returning to the breath will likely work eventually and it can be like a game to see about shortening the time before you realize you've been hooked. However I've also found that paying attention to the space between thoughts is a great way to make the spaces wider and wider.

    lobsterSnakeskin
  • RefugeeRefugee San Francisco Explorer

    Hi all,

    All of this feedback has been immensely helpful, and I am grateful for all the comments.

    What I have taken away most from this discussion is a renewed sense of patience, of less forceful effort, and of less resistance. I am seeing thoughts as they arise as thirsty plants in the garden demanding a bit of attention, and so when I observe that a particular thought has arisen multiple times, I see that it needs attention. When I give it the attention it craves, even if it is only an acknowledgement, it ceases or lessens its demands.

    Of particular use, I think, would be a daily or weekly journal.

    Thank you again.

    ShoshinlobsterKannon
  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    @Refugee I have been journaling since I was a little kid, and don't plan on stopping soon. It is great.

    I am happy for you! <3

  • Don't give up, don't judge yourself harshly. You are changing the current of a mighty river with a breath.....

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-woollacott/does-the-brain-filter-out_b_9859158.html

    lobster
  • Find a qualified teacher. Approach them with your question. Apply their answers, and be patient. It may take years or even decades.
    The value of Buddhism is not in the goal, but in this present moment of application and observation. You ARE observing what your mind is doing, and that IS the practice.
    Pema Chodron (a qualified and popular teacher in the West) says that even after 30+ years of meditating, her mind is still untamed. And this is okay. Because it is the process and not the end-result that matters.

  • RefugeeRefugee San Francisco Explorer

    You ARE observing what your mind is doing, and that IS the practice.

    This is helpful feedback. You're right. Through meditation, I have become more familiar with the machinery of my own mind, and more intimately familiar with the realization that it is just that: machinery. Intellectually I believed this, but to believe and to see are two different things entirely.

    This has helped me deal with unpleasant mind states. Throughout my life I have spiraled into depression, struggled with paranoid thoughts, obsessive compulsive tendencies... you name it, I've been there. The first tool I learned to use in order to counter these mind states was logic and intellect, and thus these are my most developed faculties. "Your intellect is your sword," a psychologist noted to me.

    Afraid of flying? Learn everything in the world about planes.

    Panic attacks that feel like a heart attack? Become a walking textbook on human physiology.

    Depression? Time to become an armchair neuroscientist.

    My vocabulary and writing style has become kind of strange because I spend so much of my time reading PubMed. I'm losing my fluidity with metaphor and simile because I'm feeding myself technical literature and little else.

    Yet I find myself now in a stage of life where I have dealt with most of my acute problems and challenges and find myself lacking interest, ambition, motivation, and hope. Life is comfortable but meaningless. This is not a problem that I can solve with intellect or willpower. I am utterly consumed by philosophical questions relating to the meaning of life. I recognize this as the mind's machinery trying to solve the problem of a sense of aimlessness and meaninglessness, and I know that it will turn and turn and ultimately fail.

    If I can just get out of my head for even a few moments, if I can step outside the realm of information, logic, thought, and cognition... I know that the answers are inside of me. I can sense the wholeness that lies within. I remember what it was like when I was a child. As a child, I had not yet built up layers and layers of false identity and layers and layers of preconceptions. When I looked at a flower, I saw it. Something so simple as naked observation... that is what I yearn for.

    As for a teacher... I am not ready for that. The thought evokes a sense of a door slamming firmly shut, and unlike many doors inside, this one will not easily budge. This is not a manifestation of arrogance suggesting that I know best... it is something else. Something related to emotional wounds, a fragile sense of self. Let's call it a firewall. I don't know it yet for exactly what it is, but I recognize it as a defense mechanism.

    This response ended up being far longer than I intended. I just started writing and the words came flowing out. For whatever reason, I can never seem to write journal entries, but I can write a response to a forum with no difficulty at all. I've tried pretending that I'm writing to someone else when I open the journal, but it feels hollow. Perhaps the mental image isn't strong enough, or perhaps I am so married to "truth" that I am losing my ability to pretend. Hmm.

    Well, in any case, if anyone ended up reading all of this, sorry that I ended up journaling at you. Maybe I should start an online journal or blog.

    lobsteradamcrossley
  • LOL @Refugee

    You will do fine.

    @Refugee said:

    I remember what it was like when I was a child. As a child, I had not yet built up layers and layers of false identity and layers and layers of preconceptions. When I looked at a flower, I saw it. Something so simple as naked observation... that is what I yearn for.

    Understood.
    Right relaxed concentration might suit.
    We can use a 'physical' object eg:

    • a flower, candle, stone, image,
    • a sensation, breath, positive emotive state (to start with)
    • a mental image - person, bodhisattva, Buddha, ideal, element etc

    http://m.wikihow.com/Do-Concentration-Meditation

    With right concentration, we are focussed, attentive, aware like a child but also open and flexible ...

    Hope that is useful.

    Refugee
  • SnakeskinSnakeskin Texas, USA Explorer

    I just registered. So I'm late to the thread and responding to the initial post. I share that common difficulty. Helpful to me is persistent effort all day, starting with mere awareness of postures upon waking. I try not to beat myself up when it goes no further and pat myself on the back when I've repeatedly made the effort, even if only that was the best I could do. Repeated effort becomes habit. I find the growing habits of effort to return to the intended object of contemplation and nurturing the internal joy of making the best effort I can both conducive to sitting meditation, as there is no radical shift into it. Not always but usually, I find sitting becomes just a more conducive posture for that continual effort.

    RefugeelobsterKannon
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Welcome, @Snakeskin and thank you for your comment!

  • SnakeskinSnakeskin Texas, USA Explorer

    Thanks for the welcome, @federica. :)

  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    @IronRabbit too bad I can't give you all 3 points!

  • @Snakeskin said:
    Not always but usually, I find sitting becomes just a more conducive posture for that continual effort.

    Bravo.
    Meditation in its purest form, does not begin, does not end. Sometimes it is more formal/conducive.

    How to do without effort?

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited September 12

    @lobster said:> - a flower, candle, stone, image,

    Also the sea, the clouds, some trees - nature is a wonderful teacher!

    PS unless it's raining. :p

    Kerome
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @lobster said:> - a flower, candle, stone, image,

    Also the sea, the clouds, some trees - nature is a wonderful teacher!

    PS unless it's raining. :p

    Yeah, melancholy can come on the wings of sweeping rains. It visited me yesterday, and I made the mistake of trying to peer into the future and examined the relationship between aging single males and their parents through the lens of Google. I slept badly and had dark, emotional dreams and have been considerably out of whack today.

    You think you're doing ok, and suddenly a different aspect of samsara comes visiting.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @Kerome said:> You think you're doing ok, and suddenly a different aspect of samsara comes visiting.

    Yeah, it's like they say: "Shit happens!" ( not a bad description of dukkha really )

    lobster
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