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MIDL 20/52: Observing Thinking

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 20/52 you have now developed the mental factors and skill needed to take thinking as a meditation object without identifying with it. By releasing the habitual mind you can allow it to produce thought and follow the process of thinking in order to develop understanding of its habitual and impersonal nature. During this training you learn to observe your experience of thinking and find that thinking has no shape or form but rather manifests as one or a combination of the five senses. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel our thoughts. Its impersonal and fleeting nature is revealed. Submit Your Question

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Location of Thinking?

Your Question: Eye opener. First time I got clarity on how I am thinking in terms of images and sounds. However, the thoughts seem to originate from different parts of my head. Is there a risk of imagining thoughts to originate from some place? How do we guard against that potential imagination?

Stephen Procter: In MIDL Mindfulness Training we have to trust our experience, it is all we can really know. Wherever you experienced the thoughts is correct, this place can shift from meditation to meditation. The experience of thinking has no location and can move around, the only danger is when we identify with a habitual thought process as 'my thoughts' and act through them - that is the real danger. One of the functions of mindfulness is to protect, when it is present the identification with this process ceases and thinking can be experienced without participation.


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See, Hear, Feel Thinking

Your Question: I was surprised to notice that some of my thoughts I see before I hear them and others I only hear. I don’t seem to feel them though that may be because I’m not yet aware of the feeling.

Stephen Procter: Thinking can appear as any of our five senses but how they appear depends on what sense or senses your mind habitually uses. Everyones thinking is different in this way and your mind may not use your body sense to bring form to your thoughts; just sight and sound.

When I do this exercises with my students and mention a tasty food, some of them initially taste it, some smell it and others see it. This is why we should never assume that everyone thinks the way that we do, because they don't. Even the way that each person’s mind interprets the world is different. It is very interesting to observe.


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Can't Feel Thinking

Your Question: Thanks Stephen, this is a great series. I am experiencing the thoughts as images and voices, and I am able to "see" or 'hear" them but not quite sure about feeling the thoughts, that is definitely a new concept. Is this just feeling the hands? Pressure? Pain?

Stephen Procter: For you to know a thought is present there must be something that tells you that it is - this something is the experience as the thought 'touches' you. All sense based experience contains a sensate quality. As the world touches your body, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue - this touch arises as sensation at these five doors - this sensation is what we experience when we are fully present. The mind door itself is no different, everything that arises within the mind has an associated sensate quality to it that can be felt / experienced - including the thought process itself.

This sensate quality can be observed within two areas: within the mind and also within the body as a reflection of the mind. These two always go hand in hand. If you were thinking angry thoughts for example, you may feel tight, tense, hard, hot, with an energetic upwards moving feeling within your body. If you observe your mind it will also be tight, tense, hard, hot, with an energetic feeling of moving out towards that which you are angry towards. The mind will also have a quality of stickiness, that the body does not have, as it refuses to let go of this defensive thinking pattern.


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Experiencing Thinking

Your Question: With this meditation you ask the question where do I experience thinking? I thought about this and was unable to come up with an answer as that thinking was a reflection of my unconsciousness becoming conscious of it and thus it was always there? Then again, maybe I’m over thinking this! Thoughts?

Stephen Procter: Yes, you are trying to think your way through this, there is nothing to be understood only experienced and the experience itself also does not need to be understood. Thinking itself does not have any shape, form or location so it borrows and arises as one of the five senses. Thinking arises as a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a feeling within the body.

When asked "where do you experience thinking" it is literally just asking where it appears to you at this time, it can be different every time you check in or the same. My students report experiencing the location of thinking in many places within the confines of their body and also in many places external to it.

Thinking has no form or shape, to communicate the mind stimulates and uses the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch sensation to manifest the physicality of thoughts. Not everyone experiences thinking in the same way though it is always through a combination of 1 or more of these five senses. We see, hear, smell, taste and feel as sensations within our body our thoughts / memories.

Through observation we can observe the experience of thinking arising within any of these sense doors and also it is common to experience thinking outside of our physical body - thinking has no specific location. Of course if we approach this intellectually and not experientially then the conceptual mind will provide a location and will make thinking appear to be where we think it is - usually in the middle of the head, where we 'think' it should be.

A combination of refining the three mental factors and learning to deeply relax all engagement will make the process of thinking easier to experience. These are training's in just checking in on the pure experience, free from preconceived ideas and concepts of how something should be.


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Getting Frustrated

Your Question: I find this exercise very hard. It makes me want to jump out of my skin. I get so frustrated, impatient and angry. I don't even know why. It is impossible for me to catch the beginning of a thought. I always find myself in the middle of it. Mostly I hear my thoughts (I am telling myself stories), sometimes I have visions. I can feel angry without thinking but that doesn't seem like thinking to me. I can only experience thoughts in my head. And yes, I am aware of the moment when the thinking ends because I 'will' it to end. When there is no thinking (a period that is always very, very short, let's say seconds) there are sensations and feelings, but it is more peaceful. But what do I do with this feeling of anger and why is it there?

Stephen Procter: The key word can be found in your first sentence "I find this exercise very hard". "Hard" is the key word - you are straining. This strain comes from the desire to create, control, to be perfect - for something to be there other then 'what is'. MIDL Mindfulness Training is not about creating, it is not about control and it is not about perfection - it is about being with "whatever presents itself to you". All of these qualities of heart such as the desire to create, control, to be perfect, are actually the problem, MIDL is about training the heart to 'let things be'.

During this Mindfulness Training your task is not to do anything special, just remember the touch of your hands and observe when thoughts arise. The thinking will come and go of its own accord - it is conditional - it is habitual - you don't have to make it come or go - just observe it. During this training we don't try to stop the thinking, rather we use the 'intention to not think' to create a gap in the thought stream.

The anger you feel arise is your defensive armour, it is your protection mechanism that habitually arises whenever you experience anything that feels unpleasant or out of control to you in your life. This is not special to meditation, it is a reflection of your relationship to life - this is what the whole practice is about - working with these 'armours' as they arise.


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