We can experience different kinds of distracted thinking in meditation.
There are obvious, compelling, and “in your face” thoughts in which we tend to become completely immersed. These are the full-blown distractions where we completely forget that we’re meant to be meditating, and instead become submerged in our inner dramas. We dip in and out of these all the time in meditation, returning to the practice every time mindful awareness reappears.
Then there are lighter background thoughts that babble on in the background, even as we continue to pay attention to the meditation practice. So we’ll be following the breathing, for example, while random thoughts keep popping up. Perhaps these thoughts take the form of … Read more »
Someone recently asked me about how to deal with useful distractions:
As a creative writer, I think I get some of my best ideas while in a meditative state such as when showering or shaving. My question is what I should do when a ‘useful’ or ‘epiphany moment’ happens while meditating. My instinct is to get up and write my idea down and my fear is that if I go back to my breathing I will lose this idea which has bubbled up from my subconscious. I don’t really see my wandering mind as a thing to avoid but a thing to embrace – which confuses me regarding the practice of meditation.
Mind-wandering is partly … Read more »
When I was first taught the metta bhavana (“development of lovingkindness”) practice, back in the early 1980s, I was encouraged to use these three phrases: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering” (altered to “may you…” or “may all beings…” in the other stages of the practice).
I was told that the exact words weren’t important, and that you could use your own phrases if you wanted. But none of the teachers who led the classes I went to ever offered any alternatives, which sent out a message saying that these were the “proper” and “authorized” ones.
But they worked! I remember the first time that I noticed … Read more »
I’ve had a lot of opportunity to teach metta, or “lovingkindness,” over the last two years. One thing I’m doing differently as a result is referring to metta as “kindness,” rather than “lovingkindness. The “loving” part of “lovingkindness” doesn’t, to my mind, add anything, but rather takes what’s a concrete experience and makes it seem rather abstract. It’s easy to picture what it’s like when someone is kind to you, but it’s harder to imagine someone relating to you in a way that demonstrates lovingkindness.
The simple word “kindness” seems to be an ideal term to translate “metta.” Kindness, after all, is simply relating to another being in a way that respects their desire to … Read more »
Here’s a meditation tip for you to try. It came to me when I was on retreat a couple of weeks ago. One morning, on the first meditation of the day, I found that my mind was all over the place.
I really needed to calm down my racing thoughts, but I had a hunch that the more I “tried” to do something about them, the more I was going to create more disturbance. In Buddhism we sometimes talk about this as being the task of “catching a feather on a fan,” because more effort equals more disturbance, while a gentle and sensitive effort will get the job done.
As I paid attention to the … Read more »
What kinds of things do we get up to when we are meant to be meditating, but have become distracted? Most people will say they “think” or “fantasize,” but that’s not very specific. What kind of thinking is going on? What kinds of desires drive our fantasies?
There are five traditional hindrances to meditation. Speaking very non-technically, what we tend to do when we’re distracted is one of the following:
These are the five hindrances in very non-technical language. Each of them is a form of mental turbulence … Read more »
Many of us feel that our thoughts are out of our control. We think about work long after we have left, we worry about the future and keep going over things that have gone wrong in the past. Meanwhile, life seems to be slipping by.
Modern psychology also recognises that compulsive thinking can lead us into stress, anxiety and depression. Worrying about our problems seems important, but it leaves us feeling worse and believing we have less power to change things.
Mindfulness helps by giving us the mental space to stand back, recognise what’s happening and explore alternatives. Here are some helpful approaches associated with mindfulness and meditation.
1. Learning to let go of thoughts… Read more »
Milarepa (1052-1135) was a great Tibetan Yogi who lived an austere life on the bare hillsides of the Himalayas, eking out an existence on donations and the few plants — principally nettles — that grow in that harsh environment. His name means “The Cotton-Clad One,” and he generally wore just a thin sheet, using the heat generated by meditation practices to keep the fierce Tibetan cold at bay.
Despite his remote living situation he attracted many disciples and visitors, and although he belonged to no school he is particularly venerated by the Tibetan Kagyus, who trace their lineage back through him.
Milarepa was a master of Mahamudra, a meditation approach that emphasizes the innate purity … Read more »