Monday, August 1, 2016

Meditation Monday: Thinking About Thinking

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

On a recent New Yorker podcast, Patricia Marx describes becoming reacquainted with archery. According to her instructor, the key is to clear one’s mind from thoughts. Apparently, an expert archer focuses on the intended target, allows it to penetrate completely into the mind, removes all semblance of thinking, and lets the arrow fly. Marx wasn’t particularly successful, unless you count the near bulls-eye she got—on her neighbor’s target. She described not being able to quiet her thoughts and commented, “This is why I’m terrible at yoga.”

Many mistakenly believe that practicing meditation means removing thoughts from the mind. But psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach has a different perspective on thinking. According to Brach, we cannot stop or control thoughts, but we can develop a different relationship with them. She states, “Thinking is a very good servant but a very bad master.” We need our thoughts—that’s how we do stuff.

But to be mindful, we need more than thinking. The thinking mind can turn us toward mindfulness. But it can keep us caught in dead-end loops. Judgment, ruminations, obsessions. To fully experience life, we need to use thinking as a tool, not as the only way of being in the world.

Brach offers the following exercise to bring mindfulness to thoughts. 
  • Close your eyes and take a few breaths to center yourself and come into the present moment.
  • For the next few minutes (set a timer if you like), count your thoughts. Just as each one enters into your mind. There’s a thought. There’s another one. Just notice and number them.
How was that? How many thoughts did you count? Can you identify which type of thoughts you had? Worrying? Planning? Judgmental? Thoughts about thoughts? Were they visual or audio? Moving images or stills?

Brach reminds us that thoughts are not reality. Just as feelings are not facts, thoughts are thoughts—they are not truth. We do not have to identify with the thoughts. But we also cannot—nor should we—try to remove them from our mindfulness practice. Notice, identify, and label. Acknowledge the thought instead of resisting it so you can move through it continue to deepen your awareness.

Enjoy your practice.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this - one of the reasons I avoid meditation is b/c my mind won't quiet down. And then that critical voice says, "What's wrong w/you that you can't do this?" ARGH
    I'm going to try this - just notice and count when my mind won't quiet - let's see how many thoughts I count.