Distractions as hypnotic bubbles

7 Comments

photo-1434077669225-1c31be460e9cx1000

As we meditate, thoughts bubble up. Many people are bothered when this happens, and tell themselves that there’s something wrong or that they’re no good at meditating. But having a lot of thoughts arise is OK. Our minds produce thoughts. It’s natural.

While bubbles in water contain gases, the thought bubbles that arise in the mind contain stories. Sometimes the stories inside these bubbles are emotionally compelling, and we can’t resist sticking our heads inside to see what’s going on. The bubble now surrounds our head like a 3D holographic display, complete with images, sounds, and tactile and other sensory information. And the story we’re witnessing is interactive! We now start playing the role of being ourselves, communicating with characters who love us, hate us, or ignore us, or we simply get lost in talking to ourselves about various aspects of our lives.

When we’re lost inside these thought bubbles it’s as if we’re dreaming or hypnotized. We lack self-awareness. We’re participating in our experience but we’re no longer monitoring or observing it. We can stay stuck inside these hypnotic bubbles for a long time, but at some point we realize that it’s not a very wholesome activity for us to be involved in, we remove ourselves from the bubble, and return to the world of sensory reality.

Although they are compelling, with practice we find that we can simply let the bubbles float by us. We’re still aware of the stories they contain, still aware of the emotional pull they exert upon us. But now we’re more in the role of “observer” and no longer a participant in their dramas. The pull is felt less strongly. The stories are seen as unhelpful.

In order to to develop the ability to remain outside of the hypnotic bubbles of your thought, you can practice being aware of the actual physical space around you, and the light and sound and smells that it contains. You can become aware of the entire physical body, and of the myriad sensations arising within it. You can be aware of feelings that arise in the body. You can be aware of the qualities of the mind: is it contacted or expansive; dull or bright; busy or quiet; discontented, happy, or neutral?

Noticing all of this creates a “space” of awareness that’s expended, rather than contracted. The mind is contracted when it’s absorbed in a single thought. It’s expansive when it’s paying attention to the breadth of our experience. When the mind is spacious, there is a sense of there being a distance from our thoughts as they bubble up. With that sense of distance comes freedom—the freedom to observe rather than participate in our inner dramas, the freedom to accept our experience rather than judge and resist it. There may be just as much thinking going on as before, but it’s no big deal. The thinking co-exists with mindfulness.

With practice, we find that although we still get distracted—still get sucked into the hypnotic bubbles that arise within the mind—it becomes easier for us to let our thoughts arise and pass away without becoming hypnotized by them. We find that we naturally do more observing and less participating. We spontaneously find ourselves living in a more spacious realm of awareness. We find ourselves enjoying greater freedom.

,

7 Comments. Leave new

  • This is a wonderful analogy – sticking your head inside “Thought bubbles” is a great way to visualise what happens when you are lost in your stories :)

    I agree that having thoughts is natural – we are just trying to become aware of those thoughts.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • What’s interesting is that, what you describe, being an observer instead of a participator in our thoughts, is the opposite of what is healthy or helpful in our relationships. When we relate to others, if we were to observe ourselves while we’re conversing, we would not be present. Like standing outside of a conversation at a party; we’re detached. So while being detached from obsessive thoughts is a skill to be desired, being present with whomever we find ourselves with takes letting go of this very same action of separation. We are present to whomever is in front of us, not judging and allowing the moment to unfold. Thoughts?

      Reply
      • I wouldn’t quite agree, Carole. When we’re in conversation with someone it’s an important part of practice for part of our attention to be monitoring what’s going on, how we’re responding, what thoughts we’re having, whether those thoughts are helpful or not, what we’re planning to say and whether that’s likely to be helpful or not. Please excuse the very long quote, but this is the Buddha describing this in operation, as it might happen in conversation:

        “Whenever you want to do a verbal action, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then any verbal action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction… it would be a skillful verbal action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any verbal action of that sort is fit for you to do.

        “While you are doing a verbal action, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both… you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not… you may continue with it.

        “Having done a verbal action, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction… it was a skillful verbal action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.”

        The aim of practice is not to be “detached” but to be non-attached. One way we can be attached to our thoughts and words is to not stand back from and evaluate them! We’re not necessarily any more “present” for the other person if we’re not monitoring our experience. If such mindfulness is absent, then there’s nothing to stop our thoughts from simply being distracted.

        I can see how it might sound like this is all going to take us away from being with the other person, but actually what I’m describing (and the Buddha is describing) is how we remain compassionately present with ourselves and with the other person.

        Reply
      • Except I also do agree! Once the mind has been trained so that our speech is naturally empathetic, kind, truthful, helpful, etc., there’s little to no need to monitor it, and there’s a kind of effortless mindfulness, so that our communication just flows. In those cases we can be present without being conscious of any mindful monitoring or standing back from our communication. If there is any monitoring still taking place, it’s happening below the threshold of consciousness.

        Anyway, thank you for this contribution. I enjoyed thinking this through!

        Reply
        • I appreciate the discussion.

          Certainly having empathy and compassion as a primary focus will steer our words, cause us to think before we speak hastily or from ego.

          You wrote, “The aim of practice is not to be “detached” but to be non-attached.” Would you kindly go into more depth on this? Maybe I already am experiencing it, when I’m being mindful, but I would appreciate your thoughts and insight.

          Reply
          • Sure. To be attached means to over-identify with your experience, and to be over-invested in your thoughts, stories, and feelings. As the Buddha put it, you experience those things “as though joined with them.” When you’re attached you let your ego (desires, aversions) get in the way of mindfulness, compassion, and love. In the context of the hypnotic distractions I’ve talked about here, you’re totally immersed in them. You’re just acting out a part in a drama, without awareness.

            To be detached means to not care or to be uninvolved, or to feign unconcern. It’s actually just another way of playing a part in a drama, but in this case you’re buying into the story that things don’t matter. It may involve distancing yourself from parts of your experience because you can’t face them, for example. Or you might simply have a lack of feeling.

            When you’re non-attached, things still matter, but it’s skillful things that matter: mindfulness, empathy, compassion, ethics, etc. You’re not attached to your thoughts, stories, and feelings — at least the ones that are unskillful. You observe them, but you don’t buy into them because you recognize that they’re not going to help you or others in any way. As the Buddha put it, you experienced then, but as though dis-joined from them.

            But there are positive qualities present, like mindfulness, and kindness, and compassion. You’re affected by those things in a positive way. You care. Compassion is a non-attached but very skillful, and potentially very powerful volition, for example. It’s a very caring state of being, but it’s not one in which you are so submerged that you lose any sense of mindfulness. If you did, then your compassion would very quickly turn into something else.

  • Lovely – thanks! I have experienced this at times, and have been unsure of what I was experiencing. (“Was I just less focused?” Certainly it has felt like being less ego invested or less intense.) Also, it has seemed that when I stress less, that I am more creative, and speak from a deeper part of myself, sometimes saying things that I may stand back and think, hmm, where did that come from? I like that very much, it has seemed to come from my deeper self, some unconcious knowledge, which is certainly my knowledge, but overlaid by daily concerns. Like writing without judging, just being in the flow.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X