Problem "seeing" thoughts

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jerry murphy, modified 7 Years ago.

Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 18 Join Date: 3/19/13 Recent Posts
I've been practising noting for the last few months pushing it up to 2 or 3 hours a day the last couple of weeks. My concentration is improving and my ability to note is too but I can't seem to observe my thoughts. Every time I get lost in thought when I realise I kind of snap back in to awareness of my breath and then I realise I've been lost in thought after i'm following the breath.
I have never been able to note thinking while it is happening. How can I move past mind and body if I can't observe my thoughts? Very frustrated am I doing something wrong??
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Hi Jerry,

Here are some tips with noting:

Gil Fronsdal Noting

Noting is a practice that can be done with labelling and without labelling. I had this problem too until I read the above advice. What you want to tap into is consciousness. The way people use the word normally can cause problems with understanding. What I mean by consciousness is the knowing part of your mind. When you "get lost in thoughts" your knowing part of your mind knows this happened. For example. Look at something and understand that YOU KNOW you are seeing it. Do the same with all the other senses and then treat thoughts the same way. Thoughts are registering in your consciousness all the time. The stress and strain of noting should be let go of because noting should be about seeing what's happening in real time to your consciousness.

I know this is very subtle but the practice is about truly zeroing in on what stress is. Stress is fixation and clinging to perceptions of liking and disliking objects from your memory or what's in front of you. By looking at the many different lists of what to note (4 foundations/5 aggregates), you start to organize your practice so you can notice more of what's hitting your consciousness. What you are to do is see the 3 characteristics in each of these phenomena until your brain loses enchantment/addiction/obsession with that phenomena. The fact that thoughts are hitting the knowing part of your mind means thoughts cannot be a permanent "self" because it's being seen by consciousness. Thoughts are impermanent because they come and go, and most importantly thoughts about likes and dislikes (with fixation/rumination) should feel stressful to the body. If you can do this you can see everything hitting your consciousness over and over again until dispassion naturally occurs.

To go more subtle with the practice notice how intentions also hit the consciousness. Intending to meditate or intending to note is more stuff that doesn't have to be grasped and clung to. Notice how the part of your mind that manipulates where your attention goes is also stressful. Let the attention go where it wants and just note it without labels and watch it pass away naturally. The practice is best when you don't add fixation and don't repress experiences. Just let phenomena (including mental movements) pass away on their own. There is no "you" that has to let go. It let's go on its own. So for example when you get lost in thoughts just let it happen and when the mind naturally comes back to the present moment don't do anything and look at thoughts as an experience that just happened in the present moment like anything else. It's almost like a cloud that came and went and consciousness just watched it happen. High processing thinking is needed in life and you don't want to repress it.

As Daniel rightly likes to harp on it's important to look at how thoughts feel instead of obsessing on what they mean. Treat thoughts like sensations. Buddhists look at thoughts like a 6th sense. Here's an exchange with Kenneth Folk on his site I found helpful:

Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thoughts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.


Now you should see what Daniel points out repeatedly, which is that thoughts don't actually feel anything. They can make your body feel something (negative or positive thoughts) but they aren't an experiencer or watcher that experiences. Sensations hit your consciousness and thoughts aren't a "self" that experiences it before it hits consciousness. The habit we have is to think quickly over top experiences like it's a self experiencing it when experiences have already come and gone. Analyzing experience is just more thoughts. Thoughts can't hear and thoughts can't see, etc. Hearing can't think and seeing can't think.

The Role of Appropriate Attention

"Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."


By getting more disenchanted with rumination and fixation over likes and dislikes your concentration should improve so you can do what you want with life. Organize your life in goals and break down large goals into smaller ones and execute them day in and day out to change your active habits so that your mindfulness will actually help you in life. Meditation won't help with daily tasks except to reduce clinging but that should make it easier to just get things done because if you're not fixated there should be less old habits in the way and you let habitual impulses pass away before you act on them.

Finally with consciousness. It is also impermanent. Consciousness is always conscious of something. So if a meditator fades their senses with concentration up through the jhanas until consciousness doesn't have objects then consciousness disappears (briefly for most people) and that should be proof that there's nothing permanent anywhere.

So this is a lot to digest but it's all in one post. emoticon

Have fun with practice!
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Voku Hila, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 34 Join Date: 6/29/12 Recent Posts
Richard Zen:


Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thoughts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.



Hello!

What is "body"?

In my experience body sensations are strongly connected to mental images (of the body(parts)), which could be labeled as "thought", or fantasy...

Is body "better" than sight and sound?
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Voku Hila:
Richard Zen:


Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thoughts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.



Hello!

What is "body"?

In my experience body sensations are strongly connected to mental images (of the body(parts)), which could be labeled as "thought", or fantasy...

Is body "better" than sight and sound?


Your skin. It allows you to notice how your thoughts affect your body. If you like or dislike a thought you can feel it. It has to do with the amygdala.

Here's Kenneth Folks take on an old thread from his website:

Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thougts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.
¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬_________________________________________________________________________
"While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."

-Master Shengyen
_________________________________________________________________________
Kenneth: See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation.

Mumuwu: Do you mean the moving out of the body to the mind and back?

I mean the creation of a third "thing," this pseudo-entity that is a composite of body sensations and mental phenomena. Living in this third thing is suffering because it takes you out of what is really happening in this moment; it becomes a proxy for experience. You can train yourself to stop living this proxy life of suffering by coming back to the body sensations in this moment. The body cannot lie. Being in the body is being present in this moment. Being present in this moment does not allow the pseudo-self to form. When the pseudo-self does not form, life is simple and free. It will be pleasant at times and unpleasant at times, but it is always free.

There is no conflict between noting and living in your body, by the way, whether you note silently or aloud. You can note or not note, think, act, talk, love, live; there is very little you can't do; you just can't suffer. If you choose to note, understand that there is nothing magical about the noting itself. The noting is simply a feedback loop to remind you to feel your body and observe your mind in this moment.
_________________________________________________________________________


Is that useful?
Mario Nistri, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 210 Join Date: 3/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi!

A couple of things:
-regarding thoughts, in the beginning is perfectly natural not being able to note them while they are happening; this comes naturally with time, unless you decide to make them your main object of meditation, in wich case that is usually perfectly doable;
-what makes the progress throught knowledges happening is you applying the tecnique, meaning noting something, what you note in particoular is not relevant at all; so if you find that noting rising&falling is easier than noting thoughts, just do that, it will be more than enought to make progress.

Last point: if you are serious about doing the whole insight trip from beginning to path, 2-3 hours a day are enought provided that you also have informal practice going all day long; if you don't I'm not sure whether or not progress will happen, and my personal advice would be to spend 2-3 hour every day practicing metta and waiting to get into first jhana just by doing that, or any other concentration tecnique, or any other kind of spiritual practice that helps you relax and by proxy getting the mind stable, yoga postures being one among many options. I'm sure others will have different advices though...
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jerry murphy, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 18 Join Date: 3/19/13 Recent Posts
Mario:
Why Metta to enter Jhana? I've never practiced it before. I've read about it though, I have a very hard time visualising things would that be a problem? I practice yoga for an hour a day and do an hour walking meditation also but I've had limited success doing informal practices but haven;t made much effort to do so...is it really that important?
Thanks for the reply!

Richard:
Wow lots to digest! very helpful cleared a lot up though. What do you think of what mario says about metta? I want to reach stream entry. I'm unemployed so I have loads of time. Basically I'm building up the hours I do every week. I suppose I'm leaning towards sticking with noting practice as it's what I've been doing but experiencing the Jhanas sounds pretty coolemoticon
Thanks!
Mario Nistri, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 210 Join Date: 3/3/12 Recent Posts
About informal practice: yes, I think it's key to progress, expecially in insight.

Visualizations are not necessary, are just a mean to create the feeling of metta in your body, and then just staying with it, enjoying it, allowing it to get stronger until the mind slips into first jhana. I have very poor visualization skills, but I have enought to imagine a cute puppy to cradle, and if that doesn't work, you might just wish someone you love to be happy, or reflecting on the fact that we are all brothers&sisters on the same boat, or imagining to send love to yourself...

Another thing I like about metta is that in informal practice, when you are interacting with others (or just being in the supermarket or whatever, surrounded by perfect strangers) you have by default a lot of metta raw material, so you can get more acquainted with the feeling.

Various other things I like about metta:
-it seems to be the base for compassion&sympathetic joy to happen: when there is metta, the two of them are a very natural consequence of that
-it has a lot of nice real-life consequences, both in the short and long term
-I'm pretty sure that people who are physically close to us are quite influenced by our feelings
-see this essay for a broader discussion on the relationship between the Brahma Viharas and the powers (at the end of it you also find a short summary of time-tested formal practice instructions)
-if you practice metta making it flow, expanding it throught your body, using the feeling to relax your tensions, using it to penetrate the hardest areas of your body, then it becomes a kind of energy practice by it's own right

Bye!
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
jerry murphy:
Richard:
Wow lots to digest! very helpful cleared a lot up though. What do you think of what mario says about metta? I want to reach stream entry. I'm unemployed so I have loads of time. Basically I'm building up the hours I do every week. I suppose I'm leaning towards sticking with noting practice as it's what I've been doing but experiencing the Jhanas sounds pretty coolemoticon
Thanks!


Jhanas are helpful in the beginning because they are a nice reward for all that sitting and getting up to the 4th jhana in particular can be fun and the clarity will help with insight. The noting practice was good for me to get up to equanimity (vipassana jhana) but if I let my attention go where it wanted to while noting it would have been better results and less restrictive. When you do the insight remember not to lock into jhanas because that often happens. People stop noting and start enjoy the jhana. It's okay but it's not insight. You want to pick a practice and do it with the resolution to level up one stage at a time. With jhanas it's staying in a particular jhana until your brain naturally gets bored and moves up to the next one. For insight use the maps but don't be addicted to constantly referencing them in your mind or obsessing about them. In the beginning it's easy for the ego to latch on to meditation stuff and mentally talk about it instead of practising. Maps are just markers to help you when you don't know where you're at. They are better to look at after you finished a session and had different experiences.

The purpose of jhana and metta to aid insight practices is to soften the blow of deconstructing your sense of self. You need to be doing the insight practice all day though in order to benefit from it. The best value to get from insight is to increase your life responsibilities and note while doing them. You want to be more functional, not less functional. Also when you go through the dark night withdrawal symptoms you want to be releasing goal oriented dopamine by getting tasks done. When I was unemployed I lounged around and wallowed in dark night territory. That was a mistake. No matter how disenchanted you feel if you keep getting chores done and following responsibilities you'll be releasing healthy levels of dopamine to round out the icky negative vibes. For some people they don't get much withdrawal symptoms so every case may be different.

Ian And has a good collection of books that will help your meditation greatly:

Theravada book resources

I particularly like the Direct Path by Analayo and the 5 aggregates by Boisvert. Looking into dependent origination is important as well because you want to see how things are setup from the very beginning of your experience (like consciousness and feeling tone) that affect your choices. By seeing the repetition with mindfulness over and over again you can get disenchanted with cyclical habits and they have less hold. I would also recommend The Direct Path by Greg Goode, which is more Advaita Vedanta, because it gives you a taste of what it looks like at the end when you are satisfied and moving through life. A lot of meditation manuals make enlightenment is a goal where the goal posts keep moving forward and that the stuff you do develop is chopped liver. Even if you never become an arhat (most won't) having really strong deep equanimity is very valuable and it shouldn't stop you from living your life fully.
C C C, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Problem "seeing" thoughts

Posts: 953 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
jerry murphy:
I've been practising noting for the last few months pushing it up to 2 or 3 hours a day the last couple of weeks. My concentration is improving and my ability to note is too but I can't seem to observe my thoughts. Every time I get lost in thought when I realise I kind of snap back in to awareness of my breath and then I realise I've been lost in thought after i'm following the breath.
I have never been able to note thinking while it is happening. How can I move past mind and body if I can't observe my thoughts? Very frustrated am I doing something wrong??


I couldn't see my thoughts initially. I didn't actually believe I had many thoughts happening, but of course they were, I just couldn't see them.

The only tip I can give you is to practise tuning in to your mind's activity in normal every day life, not during meditation. Then you'll start to see them gradually.

What I found was that I had music looping continuously over and over and over, for every hour that I was awake. If I was particularly happy or sad, then thoughts relating to the causative situation would happen, but they would be much easier to see. They would also tend to be repetitive.

When very relaxed in body and mind, I can see thoughts in deeper layers of the mind, previously subconscious. Sometimes they even have an audible internal "voice" speak them. That can be quite unsettling the first time it happens. Mine are sort of random, and mostly meaningless words or sentences that bubble up from deep within the mind - they have that spontaneous, involuntary and powerful quality about them. Happens rarely because I'm usually not relaxed enough.

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