Observing Thought – Mindfulness
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kaushik of Beyond Karma. Thanks Kaushik!
The mind is empty only when thought is not. Thought cannot come to an end save through passive watchfulness of every thought. In this awareness there is no watcher and no censor; without the censor, there is only experiencing. In experiencing there is neither the experiencer nor the experienced. The experienced is the thought, which gives birth to the thinker. Only when the mind is experiencing is there stillness, the silence which is not made up, put together; and only in that tranquility can the real come into being. Reality is not of time and is not measurable.
~ J. Krishnamurti
I write books and run a www.beyond-karma.com on awakening for two reasons.
One, there is a simple and easy way to release depression, anxiety, the unease of being—it is releasing all the conditioned gunk we build up in our minds with the bumps and grinds of life.
And, two, because awakening is simple.
And what is awakening? Awakening is awakening out of the world of fear and sadness. Leonard Jacobson says very simply, “To awaken simply means to awaken out of the world of the thinking mind into the world of the present moment.” Buddha said awakening is the end of suffering.
Some people take exception to using the word “simple” to describe the awakening process. For most people who are trying to awaken, the process has not been easy. I recognize this. The reason I use “simple” to characterize awakening is not to insult the many who have and are struggling with it. But just because it has been difficult for many does not mean it has to continue to be difficult.
I say simple because if you look around at the resources available for awakening, you might get the idea that awakening is very difficult, or you have to meditate for decades, or you need specialized spiritual knowledge, or you need to understand theories of existence, and bliss and oneness, or you have to sign up with a tradition and ‘advance’ your way through the hierarchy or you need to understand the various “stages” of consciousness or solve zen koans, and so forth. You don’t have to do any of this, and from what I have seen, these are actually the very obstacles to awakening for many.
Awakening is simple. It is not simple only when we put in the effort to complicate it.
Here’s what you do:
One: find a release technique that resonates with you. Try the Release technique I describe in beyond-karma.com, or the Sedona Method, or EFT. Releasing helps free us of depression, anxiety, the past, and it’s an effective salve for awakening symptoms—some call these Kundalini or Kundalini Rising symptoms.
Two: find an awareness technique that resonates with you. Awakening is relaxing into awareness.
If you sit quietly and consider, the only things you can be absolutely certain of are: that there is Awareness; and all experience is always in the Now. Awakening is simply moving attention from thinking to the present moment, from mind to awareness. There are many techniques that can help you with this. Start with the one that is easiest.
One, Release and Two, Awareness. This is the two-step dance of awakening.
Have you ever tried to meditate? Do you meditate? If you meditate or have tried to, you probably found it very difficult, especially in the beginning. Many people talk about meditating, and want to meditate but they can never start or give up very quickly.
My first meditation experience was about seven years ago at a Vipassana Meditation retreat. It is a rigorous ten days, of complete silence, two simple meals a day, and three to five one-hour meditation sessions each day, and a 90 minute discourse. I was about two minutes into the very first meditation session at 4 am the very first morning when my mind started screaming! This is boring, I have stuff to do, if I feel this way in a minute how can I get through ten day so of this…well, somehow I did manage to get through.
Meditation doesn’t have to be difficult at all, in fact when we are truly meditating, it is the most effortless we can be.
And this is why it’s important to start with techniques that are easy. It is only after practicing for a while that we understand the nature of effort, and we understand what it means to “relax” into awareness. Effort and discipline belong in the mind and are counter-productive to getting into the flow of awakening.
All awareness techniques lead to effortless meditation. You may know this by other names: zazen, zen, formless meditation, mindfulness and so on. It is not a meditation at all; it is not a technique; it is just being, here and now. Krishnamurti said it well: it is a passive and alert watchfulness.
Observing Thought is a wonderful technique, easy to incorporate into daily living, and of “medium” difficulty. If you observe thought for a while, you will find that it is much easier to meditate, or to do some of the other techniques.
However, I’ve worked with people who are not quite able to understand what it means to observe thought. If you find it difficult to observe thought, don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you. Start with Inner Stop.
Sometimes we find it hard to rest in Awareness Now, or release, or to observe thought or meditate. Here is a technique that is easy and effortless. When the mind is resistant, you can simply decide to be momentarily aware—just for a second or two. Then you are free to slip into auto-pilot mode. Whatever you are doing, driving, working, talking, listening, thinking, longing, wondering, or daydreaming about how grand life will be when you are finally enlightened—whatever it is, just use your inner stop to stop and look and momentarily slip into a witness mode, and watch yourself, passively, just for a second or two. Watch thought. Watch the inner body for sensations or emotions. It’s a quick wake up. And then allow yourself to go about whatever it is you were doing.
As you do this, you will do it more and more frequently and it will become easier to be a witness to what’s going on inside you.
How do I quiet thoughts?
Can you simply end, right here and right now, your fascination with thoughts? Can you stop believing them? Whether the thought is good, bad, spiritual, evil, of him, of her, of me, recurring, obsessive—can you simply end the fascination? Can you see thoughts are not yours? Thoughts arise out of conditioning and memory; literally out of the stale past. You do not choose your thoughts. So how can they be yours?
How do I end the fascination?
If there were a 12-step plan, that would simply be another thought. If we can’t end the fascination or belief in thought, Observing Thought is a good technique to take the wind out of its sails.
To get a taste of what it is like to be in observation, wait for you next thought. Wait with alertness, like a cat watches a mouse hole, ready to pounce with all your might on the next thought that rises.
You may find that it’s a while before a thought rises. The quiet, alert waiting, without the pent-up energy to pounce, is what it is like to observe thought.
Do we control our thoughts? For the most part, we do not decide what our next thought is. Can we just say to thoughts: yes, come in and play. And leave when you want to.
Observing thought is moving attention from the content of thought to Awareness. Then, it can be seen that thought is just one of many objects that pop up in Awareness, and that there is no perceptual difference between a thought and seeing a coffee table.
Your attention can either be inside of the thought or it can be outside of thought. When it is inside, you are participating in the thought-story; when it is outside you are observing thought without interpreting or reacting or participating in it. When it is outside of the thought, it is in awareness.
Right now you are embroiled in thinkingness. This is blocking awareness. Awareness is light simplicity. Thought is heavy complexity that arises within awareness. Thought cannot see Awareness; Thought can only see its own narrow content. Awareness can see thought and everything else that rises in Awareness.
For now, set aside the need to understand.
Witness thought. This is a soft, intention-less observing; this is not the effort of concentration or analysis. Do not analyze the content. Do not judge. Do not interfere. Do not block any thought or emotion. Simply observe. Watch. Witness.
When thoughts rise, allow them to. When they subside, allow them to. They’ll come and go. In the beginning it may be hard to keep out of the river of thought. You’ll get involved. Without blocking the thought, without changing it, try to step out of it and watch it.
Watch without judging or analyzing or labeling or interpreting. If you feel good, that’s good. If you feel bad, that’s good. Don’t reject negativity. Just observe it. Only thought can judge. Awareness does not judge. So when thoughts are judged as good, bad, negative, irritating or whatever, it is one thought judging another. Don’t judge. Don’t judge yourself on how well you are observing. That too is just another thought.
Don’t think about how well you’re doing or whether you’re doing this right. That too, is just a thought.
The first thing you will notice is that observing thought is hard!
The second thing you notice is that with continued attempts at observing, it gets easier quickly. Don’t get frustrated. Decide to enjoy the process. Decide to see humor in the monkiness of the mind. With a smile, bring attention back to observing whenever you remember. The mind has always been thus.
Observe thought and experience its structure. See that it flows in a single stream. Thought does not have volume, it has speed and disjointedness, and it has the uncanny ability to gobble up all your attention. Thoughts come one after another, in rapidity, one melting into another, but thoughts are not simultaneous. Observe that as you observe, thoughts begin to become distinct, with some space in between them. Observe that there is a transition, from being immersed in thought to observing the thought, and from observing to being immersed. You can observe when observing, and you can observe the two transitions, but you cannot observe in the immersed state. When immersed in thought, you are swept away, and therefore not watching. When you become conscious of being immersed you transition out. It feels like a release, a falling, a relaxation.
As you continue to watch, you will find that the momentum of thought diminishes. As thoughts diminish, you will find gaps between thoughts. This is Stillness. Allow the gaps. Don’t force them; don’t wish for them. You may be tempted to clutch at the gaps, or to cling to them. Don’t. This will not work. The gaps are the Stillness, the Silence. You don’t arrive at the gaps, the gaps are just being right here, right now.
The gaps will expand.
You’ll soon realize that these gaps—this space—is the constant background Stillness in which thoughts rise. Thoughts come and go. The Stillness is constant.
Gaps expand, and stillness abides—this is presence.
If you’re having trouble observing thought there is a nice trick you can use temporarily. It’s called echo-talk, and it is exactly what you think it means. It works well with obsessive, recurring thought-stories. When you become aware that you have had a thought, repeat it. Repeat it in an impersonal, slow voice. See what happens.
Are you not able to observe thought? Is it hard? Do you not understand what watching thought means? Can you see that these too are just thoughts? Trying to observe is observing. Keep at it. Or go to Inner Stop.
What does awakening mean to you? Perhaps nothing; perhaps everything. Have you had the experience that you thought of awakening and enlightenment as some sort of super-natural, ultra-spiritual achievement for celibate monks, or you thought it was all mumbo-jumbo, and then, for some reason, when you were ready, it all made complete sense, but not in a way that you can explain? What is your experience with awakening? Meditation? Healing? Why are you interested in self-improvement or awakening?
About Beyond Karma
Are you ready to awaken out of the world of fear and sadness? Are you ready to jump off the self-improvement treadmill? Do you want to rise above your stuck patterns? Are you ready to…declog, unclench, unstick, release, and open up to a life of joyous and limitless possibilities?
Visit Beyond Karma!