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Trying to Unravel the Experience of Thought

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An exercise in MCTB:

It is absolutely essential to try to figure out how you experience thoughts, otherwise you will simply flounder in content. What do thoughts feel like? Where to they occur? How big are they? What do they look like, smell like, taste like, sound like? How long do they last? Where are their edges? Only take on this practice if you are willing to try to work on this level, the level that tries to figure out what thoughts actually are rather than what they mean or imply.

If my thoughts are somewhat auditory, I begin by trying to perceive each syllable of the current thought and then each syllable’s beginning and ending. If they are somewhat visual, I try to perceive every instant in which a mental image presents itself. If they seem somewhat physical, such as the memory of a movement or feeling, I try to perceive exactly how long each little sensation of this memory lasts.


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An unhealthy attachment to thoughts may very well be my BIG ISSUE, so this exercise seems appropriate for me. I’ve put about 20 hours of formal practice into it. Even after recently sitting a two-month vipassana retreat, I definitely learned some new things about how the thought process works on a sensation-level.

In this post I’ll be sharing my experiences with the exercise, and would love to hear any pointers in the places I’m stuck/confused, or in general just hear if other people’s experiences coincide or contrast with my own.

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I was surprised to see the high frequency of a visual aspect in my thoughts, even if just a few flickers in a thought-chain. Interestingly, I’ve yet to see an imagined image, meaning that every image is something I’ve already experienced… Anyhow, when I notice the visual aspect I feel fairly capable of dissolving the thought.

My thoughts generally do not seem physical; although, occasionally some charged memory comes up and the associated feeling that arises in the body is fairly easy to find. This usually manifests as an energy shift throughout the body, an anxious airy energy (particularly in the throat, chest and gut), or sometimes as an impulse to tense my muscles… When I have a physical effect to focus on it’s quite a bit easier to dissolve.

As to the question of where thoughts occur or what they feel like… I don’t know if it’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy or what, but I seem to locate them where I imagine my brain to be, and when doing this exercise the sensations in my forehead become quite intense; and in turn, they actually become a very useful ‘grounding object’ to get myself out of a juicy thought. But my suspicion is that this doesn’t actually have anything to do with the thought process, and is just a byproduct of my placing my attention in my head region (and maybe too much effort/exertion… not trying to!). Your opinions?

The majority of my thoughts feel very linguistic, almost purely word-based; and, maybe this is what Daniel means by ‘somewhat’ auditory, but I don’t perceive any sense of sound. I also don’t see the words, like when reading. They are just sort of ‘there,’ as if my mind is writing a story and I just intuit the word strings. When my concentration is strong, I perceive them word-by-word, when it’s weaker, some time will go by without awareness and I look back on the recent word strings and note that they were very much linguistic. I am unable to break them down to syllables. I also don’t really see any flickering. This whole process is still very elusive to me, and I admit it’s probably just due to my relatively weak concentration and insight skills. But at the same time, I’m trying to figure it out! I’m curious if anyone can give me some tips to work with these ‘linguistic thoughts.’

Where are their edges? When the attachment to a thought is weak the thought departs instantly, just like my linguistic thoughts just sort of appear, these just sort of disappear. However, when the attachment to a thought is moderate-to-high there’s a degree of physical tension, of not wanting to release the thought; however, upon release the linguistic/visual aspect drops instantly, but the tension lingers for a moment. If later in the sit that same thought-content reappears, there’s often a physical pleasure that accompanies its return. This whole viewing the edges thing has probably been the most helpful observation in this exercise, at least with respect to staying out of content.

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If you've made it this far, thanks for reading through my rambling, I'd be appreciative of any input!

With kindness,
David

RE: Trying to Unravel the Experience of Thought
Answer
10/23/13 6:51 PM as a reply to power of constancy.
I would also ask:

1) What are the thoughts looking for? Is there any chemicals that the brain wants released related to the thoughts? What do addictive thoughts, or aversive thoughts feel like in the body compared to neutral thoughts? How different is the actual experience in the present moment on your body compared to a chemical experience in your body after thinking about likes and dislikes?

2) Are any of the thoughts based on habit? How many thoughts appear to be useless and repetitive?

3) Is it easier to create new habits if you like the thoughts related to them? Is it harder to create new habits if the thoughts related to them are aversive?

4) My favourite one: What do thoughts about practice feel like? emoticon

I would also review this thread:

Looking for help to getting to 3rd path

Have fun!