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MIDL 21/52: Observing Thinking Patterns


In MIDL Mindfulness Training 21/52 you continue to release control of the habitual mind, allowing it to produce thought so that you can observe the process of thinking to develop understanding. Through this observation you will start to see the conditional habitual thinking patterns within your mind. The habitual tendency of fascination with past and future will become clearer to you. The defensive qualities of complaining, judging, fantasising, doubting etc within your mind start to map out the defensive qualities of what you may have believed to be your personality. Submit Your Question

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Lost in Thinking

Your Question: Sometimes when I observe thinking, I don't remember what I was the thinking about. What should I do?

Stephen Procter: Nothing.
Just know that you don't remember what you were thinking about.

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Experiencing Thinking

Your Question: I didn't understand what was meant by feeling the thought in the body, could you explain?

Stephen Procter: The experience of pleasantness or unpleasantness and the sensate quality of emotions can all be observed within the field of your body as reflections of your state of mind. During this training your task is to develop sensitivity to the reflection of your mind within your body and its relationship to the quality of the thinking pattern present.

This is done by bringing awareness to this sensate quality as it arises and 'rubbing' awareness on the experience as if you are 'feeling' it through touch. This will allow you to observe your relationship towards these thinking patterns and to soften into that relationship in order to decondition habitual defensive responses within your mind.

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Neutral Thoughts

Your Question: Great meditation. I have a question. While I can often clearly perceive emotionally derived thoughts in the body, I can’t seem to feel more “neutral” thoughts (such as ones labelled “planning”), as embodied. Just wondering how best to work with these type of thoughts in this exercise?

Stephen Procter: When you can not feel the physical relationship towards certain thoughts within your bodily sensations it is enough to know that you do not feel them. This in itself is interesting and a place of investigation as to why you can experience the emotional charge that arises from some thoughts but not others, such as when planning.

The neutral feeling that you are experiencing in regards to these thoughts sits within delusion and the very nature of delusion is not knowing the present experience. As mindfulness and concentration strengthen, what is covered by delusion will clarify and the emotional relationship driving these thinking patterns will reveal themselves.

For planning to be within the mind it is being fed by something. The first thing to observe is any accompanied feeling of the plan being really important. "I really have to finish this thought". This feeling of importance may be driven by aversion towards the future and have a background of fear. It can also be driven by desire for the future and have a background of longing. The emotional charge, the fuel for these thoughts, will always be there, but the clarity to observe them will not always be. Cultivation of the continuity of mindfulness clarify's awareness and brings these relationships into the light of awareness.

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Can't Find Emotion

Your Question: One confusion for me is that most of my thoughts are "remembering" that don't have an obvious emotional charge to them. I try to go on into the body to find a place where they are located but don't seem to find one. So I am not sure what to do then. Any suggestions, Stephen?

Stephen Procter: When a memory arises and there is no obvious emotional reaction with the elemental quality of your body it is a sign that the Vedana: pleasantness or unpleasantness attached to that memory may be very weak. This may mean that you were disconnected to these experiences within your life so your mind has not attached much feeling to them.

When this happens it is enough to acknowledge that there is no emotional charge present within the body and observe the quality of the mind itself. Within the mind there may be a background agitation that can be observed associated with the desire to solve a problem from the past or to relive a pleasant event. If neither is present start to observe your relationship towards experiences within your life and notice if you fully connect with these experiences in a way that stimulates interest and pleasant experience.

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Labels Make No Sense

Your Question: I don't understand how labelling thought that arises as "planning " or "remembering " or "fantasy " serves to identify the underlying emotion. Certainly fearing or longing name underlying emotions. But I found "planning", for example, had underneath sometimes anxiety, sometimes shame, sometimes excitement.

Stephen Procter: Most thinking is habitual. One of the functions of the mind is to verbalise past experience as a way of making sense of what we are experiencing ‘now’. When thinking arises, because of habitual identification, the mind turns towards and becomes absorbed within the content – what we are thinking about. During this absorption mindfulness collapses and all awareness of what is being experienced ‘now’ ceases – the content of the thought becomes the present reality.

Initially when working with the arising of thinking during MIDL mindfulness meditation we use a label such as “thinking” to identify and clarify this process in order to strengthen our mindfulness and break the grip of habitual identification with the thinking process. The next stage is to use labels to identify what is driving the habitual thinking process or what I call obsessive thinking.

Obsessive thinking is always concerned with one topic and chews it over again and again. It is driven by an emotional relationship to the content of the thought. Using labels such as “planning”, “remembering” “fantasising” withdraws awareness from the thinking pattern. This re-establishes mindfulness, clarifying our perception of the experience and bringing our relationship to the content of the thoughts into the field of awareness.

* The relationship of planning within the mind may be fed by fear, anticipation or longing and as you say have the quality of anxiety, shame or excitement. Using the label "planning" helps to identify this fuel.

* The relationship of remembering within the mind may be fed by the desire to experience the ‘pleasant feeling’ or ‘unpleasant feeling’ that is triggered by the holding of the memory in mind. Using the label "remembering" helps to identify this fuel.

* The relationship of fantasising within the mind may be fed by aversion towards what is being experienced and the desire for the pleasant feeling that arises by escaping within the mind created fantasy. Using the label "fantasising" helps to identify this fuel.

These labels themselves bring more accuracy and clarity to the actual experience. Using a general label such as “thinking” for example, is like walking into a room at a party and saying that you see “people”. Using a label like “planning” for example, is like walking into a room at a party and saying that you see “Stephen”. The labels "Stephen" and "planning" separate certain aspects of the experience because of their accuracy thereby focusing attention on that one aspect and clarifying it.

The important part is to identify what is driving the particular thinking pattern present and then observe where it arises as a reflection of the mind within our body. This then allows us to break the experience into its sensate quality: ‘hard, tense, tight, hot, damp, heavy etc and to then soften into our relationship towards it. When our relationship towards the emotional charge dissolves it removes the fuel and the habitual thinking process collapses.

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