My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

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Joshua T, modified 8 Years ago.

My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 30 Join Date: 6/6/12 Recent Posts
My practice typically consists of concentrating on the breath for 35 minutes, then walking noting for 15 minutes, then sitting noting for 40 minutes. During these sessions I will find that my mind has been going through some sort of story or series of thoughts, and I don't realize it until I've been absorbed in the story for what is sometimes several minutes. I attempt to just note thoughts, but I think that I often 'miss' them and that results in me being absorbed in them.

How can I reduce the number or length of these stories? I read a post recently implying that noting out loud may help. Is this something that will just improve over time? What are some good things to do in daily life to decrease how much I get absorbed in stories.

I hit what I believe was an A&P about 7 months ago. My concentration meditation seemed very good then, but I ended up taking a long break from meditation.
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Bagpuss The Gnome, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
I couldn't speak to the noting Joshua, but with breath practice one just brings the mind back to the object over and over again. That IS the practice. Eventually you get less lost less often. But when you do get lost and notice it, be happy, that's progress.
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Richard Zen, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
When you practice insight with noting try not to note to stop thoughts. 95% should be the experience and 5% the label. The label helps keep the thinking part of your mind occupied to make it easier to stay in the present moment with what is. You want to see thoughts (or anything else in the 4 foundations of mindfulness) arise and pass away on their own. It's because you cling to the thoughts and make a thought chain that you get lost. As you note more consistently you get better at it over the months and years to the point you can move up the nanas. Make sure you understand dependent origination and learn to notice how much less pain there is when you let go of obsessive thoughts. Letting go is simply understanding that everything is impermanent so it makes no sense to cling to what's impermanent. With this reasoning you don't stop thoughts but you also don't ADD to them. This is the 3 characteristics of reality. Everything is impermanent, it's not-self (impersonal reactivity), and unsatisfying to cling to. The more you let go of thoughts the more your mind will clear up. Noting to manipulate thoughts is just another concentration practice. We have to allow thinking but without a "thinker" concept being a driver. Your reactivity to likes and dislikes creates thought bubbles quite naturally and that's where your sense of self is. As you let go this sense of self goes away which shows the impermanence of a "self". Once you let go the saved energy can go towards your life and I would recommend doing this practice all day and getting on with your life because it's easy to be good on the cushion but to lose mindfulness in daily habits.

If you are having trouble with concentration (which is a more repressive practice to develop calm abiding) just bring yourself back to your object (the breath) as soon as you know you got lost. The less you create a story about your progress the sooner you get better at concentration. Review the jhana factors for concentration to see how hindrances are dealt with.

Five Jhana Factors

Initial application overcomes sloth and torpor
Sustained thought overcomes doubt
Rapture, delight, pleasure overcomes aversion
Happiness, joy, contentment overcomes restlessness
One-pointedness, concentration, collectedness overcomes sensual desire

You have to stick with it until your brain gets better at it just like any skill. It took me a few months to get my first jhana.

I hope that helps!
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Joshua T, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 30 Join Date: 6/6/12 Recent Posts
Thanks very much for the advice everyone. I'll keep working at it.

I'm not sure I fully understand the quote below though. Did you mean that during my day to day activities I should also work on not 'adding' or 'stopping' thoughts and focus more on being mindful in daily life? I'd like my ordinary life to be a help to my practice.

Richard Zen:
Once you let go the saved energy can go towards your life and I would recommend doing this practice all day and getting on with your life because it's easy to be good on the cushion but to lose mindfulness in daily habits.
I hope that helps!
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Richard Zen, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Joshua T:
Thanks very much for the advice everyone. I'll keep working at it.

I'm not sure I fully understand the quote below though. Did you mean that during my day to day activities I should also work on not 'adding' or 'stopping' thoughts and focus more on being mindful in daily life? I'd like my ordinary life to be a help to my practice.

Richard Zen:
Once you let go the saved energy can go towards your life and I would recommend doing this practice all day and getting on with your life because it's easy to be good on the cushion but to lose mindfulness in daily habits.
I hope that helps!


Well Buddhism goes very deep. There was a talk that someone recommended that was very helpful for me but is still quite advanced for my skill:

Dependent origination

So for practicality I'll keep it simple. When I do data entry at work my mind will wander on likes and dislikes. If I do insight practice, to see the reality that clinging on likes and dislikes literally hurts my brain and reduces my concentration, I could develop a deep dispassion for the clinging and return faster to my boring work by letting go of adding more thoughts on those likes and dislikes. The concentration will improve naturally because your senses don't need effort to work. So when you naturally start clinging to likes or dislikes you don't force an attention on the task and cut off the thoughts but you don't add to them either. Thoughts are like a chain. Thoughts will happen so fast in the beginning when they are related to quick reactivity (on likes or dislikes) that blocking them is more like a basic concentration practice. Blocking them is better than just acting on every reaction but it takes more energy than getting good at insight. Just watching phenomenon (including reactive thoughts) arise and passaway on their own and getting back to work over and over again will eventutally become a skill you get good at with practice. Ultimately you want to get to the point where you will need less effort because the dispassion to cling is so strong you don't waste energy clinging and you just get on with your life. This takes some years so what is often recommended is to:

Develop basic concentration by returning to your object of concentration over and over again to develop those jhana factors I just mentioned. It's more repressive than insight but it's a good start. That jhana factors list happens in order as you keep at it. The big one for me was doubt but as I kept bringing myself back from the reactive thoughts (doubting my practice) the sustaining concentration on the object showed it could be sustained. So it was obvious that I would start feeling better as I kept at it. It's similar to studying a textbook. I may have doubts but as I practice more I get better at it and doubt about practicing ceases. As you concentrate further you are able to let go of emotional baggage (worrying about likes and dislikes) for a period of time giving you rest. The different jhanas are like different stratas of mind that can give you deeper and deeper rest. Unfortunately when you get out of the cushion and are not one-pointed anymore your reactivity will start up again and those nice relaxing feelings will give way to being pulled by likes and dislikes the way you always have been. Once you are able to get the 1st or 2nd jhana it is often recommended by instructors to start the insight practice. So I would pick one skill like concentration and start paying attention to the breath in sitting meditation and during daily life. You do your work as per usual (which means you'll have to leave your breath to do that) and use the breath as an anchor when the mind isn't busy doing anything really difficult. When you are eating you can concentrate on the taste and savor it. Again this is a more brute force style of concentration and with insight you try to understand why there is reactivity in the first place. As you get better at concentration and can develop jhana skills you'll have enough concentration to start insight practice.

For insight I would look at the 4 foundations of mindfulness (wikipedia) and see what things are helpful to note and note them throughout the day. Basically anything you can note you can label. The label helps by conceptualizing your experience so you don't ignore it. You can go for a walk and note your leg & feet movements. You can increase your attention while driving and noting. You can verbally label out loud or in your mind. Eventually you can note without labels but at the beginning it's quite helpful to note what is the foreground of your experience (sensations, pleasant/neutral/unpleasant sensations), thoughts, and mindstates) and see how they interconnect and play against each other. See how impermanent they are and let go of the mind fixation that causes pain and get on with your life as per usual (with more wisdom of course).

It's a lot of work so one step at a time.emoticon There are those who like to do insight practice right at the beginning and those that like to skip labeling and just note by paying attention to the senses and thoughts like riding a wave. Insight practice also increases your concentration at the same time but teachers find that great concentration practice aids mindfulness/insight practice.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Some kind of feeling tone will persist for a bit after you wake up from a story. When you are in noting phase, pay special attention to the physical sensations associated with that after-feeling. Waking up from a story is a very valuable opportunity to practice mindfulness/insight with really sticky conditioning.

To decrease the frequency with which it happens, it is very helpful to celebrate take joy in each mindful breath, and take joy in the fact of having woken up from it and returned to mindful attention. The positive reinforcement from this conditions an attentional process with strong vicara and vitaka.
Adam . ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: My mind keeps getting absorbed in stories during meditation

Posts: 613 Join Date: 3/20/12 Recent Posts
On one level this is just something you will have to endure and not judge yourself over that will improve over time. There might be some techniques that will marginally speed up progress or reduce difficulty, but really this is one of the primary skills in meditation and it will just improve over time.

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