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How to overcome wandering thoughts?

edited February 2011 in Meditation
Hello,

The biggest challenge in my mindfulness/alertness training is wondering thoughts, which I can hardly control. Do you have some practical tip to overcome wondering thoughts both during formal sitting/walking meditation and during daily life? With Metta,

Muditaa

Comments

  • just notice them.. you don't have to make them go away... Unless you notice them the psychological process between emotion and thought the links that make them come up again will not change. But by being aware of the thoughts and welcoming them you see them for what they are.
  • Make the most of it, watch them wonder. If being lenient with your mind doesn't work, you could always give Zen a go.
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    edited February 2011
    @muditaa, The purpose of the meditation is to notice the thoughts, feelings, sensations and the like that arise... and let them go. The usual mode of our minds is to follow these thoughts, and they lead us around into more and more complex "imaginary happenings" that take us away from the "present moment".

    Thoughts will arise on their own; there's nothing you can do about that. This is the background process of the mind, that goes on 24/7/365. We train our minds to stay in the moment and not follow after needless distractions. To remain mindful. Some days will be good (few thoughts), some days bad. The point is always to notice and let it go; return to your meditation object.

    To overcome wandering thoughts, we acknowledge them and decline to act upon them. :D

    I hope this helps.

    Namaste
  • focusing on the breath or having a meditative object(like a deity) or a thought object to focus on. for instance the thought object "how can I stop hating" or "who can I practice compassion on". then when your mind starts to wander away from the breathing or object you have chosen, you try to catch it and refocus on the object, letting completely go of the interupting thought, i'm no meditation expert, hopefully others can fill you in as well, sincerely john
  • Wa! This forum is fast:nyah:! Thanks for the very prompt and helpful advice. "... the links that make them come up again will not change" -- good point. I think the links are mostly greed for material and immaterial gains, sometimes aversion, and always delusion of "self". Going to the roots of the thoughts might help. However, I'd like to enter jhana without distractive thoughts, which pull me back ...

  • The thought that you want to enter jhana is also on your mind.. just see that thought and you don't have to force it. Just a light touch consider how you want to enter jhana. What is that. Let it be and speak its message to you. And then let it go.
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    edited February 2011
    @muditaa, IMHO It's useful to master insight meditation before journeying into the realm of jhana. The calming and focusing of the mind, the training of its present-moment mindfulness, forms a solid foundation for more intense and unified meditation techniques. Besides, one can get lost in the bliss of jhana and gain little from it. The bulk of the mind's work is done in insight meditation. Don't underestimate "normal" meditation and overestimate absorption/jhana because it seems to be more advanced; this is not really the case! :D
  • In my understanding jhana is only used to further insight meditation rather than the opposite. If you have no awareness of jhana then there is no point to it. So cultivating trust in your own awareness is more important.

  • What is your current practice? How did you learn how? What sort of techniques are you you using, and how long are your meditation sessions?


    My generic advice is to begin the meditation session by counting your breath. This will cultivate a basic level of concentration. After a few minutes you can drop the counting.

    I also recommend the practice of mental noting throughout the session, at least for beginners

    http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mental-noting/


    Regarding both counting and mental noting: They serve the purpose of "aiming" your attention. Therefore, count and note at the beginning of the breath and at the beginning of the mental distraction. Think of the count and of the mental note as a picture "frame" that you put around the thing to be observed. Also note that the mental counting and the mental noting has a "volume control" that you should experiment with.
  • All this is very helpful. I was under the impression that during meditation I should have no thoughts or at the very worst, if thoughts occur, I should banish them.

    Then yesterday I read an article which said that the goal is to objectify our thoughts so that we can see how they don't disturb the stillness of meditation. To become detached from them so we see there is no 'self' generating them.
  • @twilly, Yeah. The thoughts aren't you, or else they wouldn't arise on their own without you consciously trying to think of something. The mind churns out thoughts at a subconscious level all the time! Most of the time the thoughts have nothing to do with reality, and yet we still think that the thoughts are "us" and so obviously we should follow each thought through. This usually takes us through convoluted imaginary scenarios, daydreams, that take away from our present-moment awareness.
  • you can't really 'overcome' thoughts. the more you practise the less they speak tough..

  • You overcome them with practice. Slowly, but surely. Be patient with yourself. Everyone faces this, and over time, the practice improves.
  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited February 2011
    Don't worry, because this is probably the biggest challenge for most people, especially in the beginning.

    It all depends on your experience with meditating. If you just start out it is rare to get a moment of inner silence, but if you just notice those short moments that is already a great thing.

    So the best advice is keep practicing.

    Second best advice is to find a good teacher or meditation book that appeals to you. There you will find techniques that you can try out to see if they work for you.

    Third and worst advice is my experiences :D here below:

    I go against the major opinion in this thread that you should just keep watching the thoughts. Because those kind of thoughts you are talking about, that are uncontrollable and just take control of you aren't the ones you just let be and watch flow along in my experience. Because they take you along and it is hard to stand above those. Most of the time when I have those there is another reason like dullness, boredom, annoyance or whatever thing that keeps me from being aware in the present moment. Then I take a step back, find the cause, work on it and go on with my meditation.

    If you don't know about the five hindrances as thought by the Buddha, you should definately read into those. Thoughts can be random chatter, but are usually generated by a cause. If you can find the cause, you can stop the thoughts.
    http://www.abundancetapestry.com/five-hindrances-to-a-successful-meditation/

    Again it depends on your experience.

    Good luck! You'll be fine if you give it time. :)
  • All this is very helpful. I was under the impression that during meditation I should have no thoughts or at the very worst, if thoughts occur, I should banish them.

    Then yesterday I read an article which said that the goal is to objectify our thoughts so that we can see how they don't disturb the stillness of meditation. To become detached from them so we see there is no 'self' generating them.
    This sounds spot-on to me. Not only should you not banish all thoughts, I've never met anyone who could stop themselves thinking, not without being dead or under a general anaesthetic! Which isn't to say you let your thoughts drag you hither and thither - you use an anchor so that you can think what you want to think, not just what your monkey mind decides to think.

    For instance, according to your practice, that anchor might be breath-counting, body awareness, a mantra, a deity practice... whatever works for you.

    Zen people often say that your thoughts are like clouds - no more significant than that. Another practice is to ask a question like a Koan "Who is it that is thinking these thoughts?"

    In Tibetan practice we have visualisations, pujas (set words you chant), mantras... all skillful means to discipline the mind.

    But don't sit there trying not to think - that is rather like when I was a kid and saw Star Wars, sitting at my desk at school, trying to move a pencil with "The Force". I was convinced all it would take would be sufficient concentration and then the pencil would move. It never did, and a few years on from beginning my practice, my thoughts still come, at random, as I'm meditating. The difference is, they rarely disturb me these days. Whenever I notice my mind wandering, I bring it back and return to the subject I intended to meditate on, whatever it was.

  • @muditaa,

    It looks like you need some instructions and structure to your practice. It helps a lot to get an overview of the meditation practice before beginning.

    I highly recommend "Mindfulness in Plain English."

    http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html

    If you combine it with my previous link on mental noting, you should be ready to go.
  • All this is very helpful. I was under the impression that during meditation I should have no thoughts or at the very worst, if thoughts occur, I should banish them.

    Then yesterday I read an article which said that the goal is to objectify our thoughts so that we can see how they don't disturb the stillness of meditation. To become detached from them so we see there is no 'self' generating them.
    ooh, could you link me to that article? it sounds interesting. :)

  • I was under the impression that during meditation I should have no thoughts or at the very worst, if thoughts occur, I should banish them.
    I'm wondering what gave you that impression? Meditation isn't about having a blank mind, although your mind will naturally become calmer with practice. It's more about becoming aware of the thought process which we normally let run unchecked. You can just observe your thoughts and let them go, then return to the object of meditation. If our attention goes to a thought or we get carried away in daydreams we simply come back to the object (breath, mantra, etc). It happens, even for experienced practitioners, so don't be hard on yourself for having thoughts! Our minds are always thinking so it's no surprise that it keeps going when we are trying to sit and focus on one particular thing.

  • For me, I do not surpress them, instead I look at the thought in detail, where it came from, why it came to be, and overall just give it a very thorough thinkingness (yes that is a word in my head) but I do not dwell on them...

    Long story short, let it come... let it go...
  • [The biggest challenge in my mindfulness/alertness training is wondering thoughts, which I can hardly control. Do you have some practical tip to overcome wondering thoughts both during formal sitting/walking meditation and during daily life? With Metta,

    Muditaa]

    Your mind wanders and is not under your control because this "mind" is not yours. Thoughts come and go of their own accord. The mind does what it is supposed to do ie. think. All you need to do is to observe these thoughts. They are impermanent, stressful and has no real essence.

    Leave those thoughts alone and don't add anything to them. They will surely come to an end.
  • When one notices that one is 'thinking ' just gently bring the awareness back to the breath. (If the breath is the focus of the meditation)


    :)
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    I have found that trying to overcome them will almost guarantee that they persist. They thrive on resistance to them. To allow them to be as they are allows them to go away by themselves. You could say that they take you away from the breath, or whatever the meditation object is. You will be sitting there breathing then all of a sudden you will be at Disney World or something. :) The purpose of the practice is not to practice preventing the trip to Disney World but to practice coming back from it. My teacher says "every time you come back, you get a little bit of wisdom".
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Chasing the elusive Dinsdale Veteran
    Hello,

    The biggest challenge in my mindfulness/alertness training is wondering thoughts, which I can hardly control. Do you have some practical tip to overcome wondering thoughts both during formal sitting/walking meditation and during daily life? With Metta,

    Muditaa
    Concentrating on something else seems to work, eg the breath or the mechanics of walking. Eventually the mind will calm down - at least for a while!

    P
  • Hello,

    The biggest challenge in my mindfulness/alertness training is wondering thoughts, which I can hardly control. Do you have some practical tip to overcome wondering thoughts both during formal sitting/walking meditation and during daily life? With Metta,

    look at whatever is in the mind right Now
    it vanishes before you grasp it
    continue this
    each moment you get is 'now'

  • edited February 2011
    Hello friends,

    I'm very impressed by so many warm-hearted help in this forum. Now I think I will do the following during my daily activities (practicing mindfulness of postures and details of activities) or insight meditation:

    "...look at the thought in detail, where it came from (greed? aversion? conceit? ...), why it came to be (due to the delusions of "self" and "likes/dislikes"), [where it's leading (disturbance of mind), and how to end it (remove our attachments to the 5 aggregates and 6 senses ...)], and overall just give it a very thorough thinkingness, ... but I do not dwell on them... Long story short, let it come... let it go..."

    Well during concentration meditation I'll:

    "Leave those thoughts alone and don't add anything to them. They will surely come to an end."

    "The thought that you want to enter jhana is also on your mind.. just see that thought and you don't have to force it. Just a light touch consider how you want to enter jhana. What is that. Let it be and speak its message to you. And then let it go."

    Many thanks!

    Muditaa

  • When the water-clearing pearl is tossed in muddy water,
    The muddy water becomes clear.
    When the Buddha’s name enters a confused mind,
    The confused mind attains to the Buddha.
    http://www.cttbusa.org/amitabhacommentary/amitabha5.htm

    Wandering thoughts are liken to muddy water while Buddha name is liken to pearl. The most expedient method is to replace these thoughts by attaching into this pearl. This pearl will naturally transformed into non attachment and non discrimination of inherent pearl :p
  • Practice makes perfect, over time you will be able to overcome wandering thoughts more swiftly and efficiently than before. The task of overcoming the restless mind cannot be rushed that requires a approach which needs patience and determination.

    Patience will help improve meditation, and meditation will improve your patience. Patience and meditation can be likened to two hands. If patience is lacking, the hand will be dirty(an example), meditation which is the other hand can be used to wipe off the dirt. If our meditation is inefficient, patience will help in improving it. If both our meditation and patience is weak, both can be done together just like how two dirty hands rub of the dirt from each other.

    @Wilfred: That's a nice quote, it reminds me of this quote:

    Lao Tzu:
    “Who is there that can make muddy water clear? But if allowed to settle it will later clarify. Thus it is that without moving you shall know, without looking you shall see, without doing you shall achieve.
    http://www.triple-gem.net/Samma_Ditthi_02Nov07.pdf
    =)
  • "...look at the thought in detail, where it came from (greed? aversion? conceit? ...), why it came to be (due to the delusions of "self" and "likes/dislikes"), [where it's leading (disturbance of mind), and how to end it (remove our attachments to the 5 aggregates and 6 senses ...)], and overall just give it a very thorough thinkingness, ... but I do not dwell on them... Long story short, let it come... let it go..."
    This might be a bit "head-y". Nothing wrong with making the perception of a thought the object of attention, but intellectual analysis will proliferate more thoughts, which defeats the purpose.
  • edited March 2011
    Hello,

    The biggest challenge in my mindfulness/alertness training is wondering thoughts, which I can hardly control. Do you have some practical tip to overcome wondering thoughts both during formal sitting/walking meditation and during daily life? With Metta,

    Muditaa
    Hi @muditaa , Jeffrey's answer of just observing the thought is very good and much more useful than it might initially sound. Two other things are, if the mind appears too active relax your body and mind more and lower your gaze slightly. If you get too dull, or sleepy, or foggy, tighten up your mind and your body and lift your gaze upwards slightly. These three things: 1) being aware of thoughts, 2) loosening, 3) and tightening are really the only tools that you need. Having said that they are not the only way to do it.

    When I was starting meditation, I wanted the most profound sounding answers to this question and did a heap of reading. It was useful, but I had these three simple tricks right from the start, yet did not realise how profound these very methods are. If you have a focus for your meditation then you have four points only to remember 1) object of focus, 2) become aware of thoughts as they arise and let them pass, 3) loosen if agitated, 4) tighten if sleepy or dull. That alone should have you moving along the nine stages of shamata.

    Supplementary things, post meditation (when not meditating): ethical conduct helps with progress as well; learn/receive buddhist teachings and contemplate their meaning. If you don't expect much you will progress more, expectations can inhibit progress. And persevere!

    Good luck, WK

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