Thought intensity

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Thought intensity

Postby JackV » Tue Apr 13, 2010 11:19 am

Hello people.

The title may be a bit misleading in terms of what this post is actually about but I cannot think of another way to phrase it.
To set the scene I have been practicing daily for the last month or so focusing on my breathing in and out with special attention to the sensation of the enter and exit of air in my nose (I tend to breath through my nose so I figured I wouldn't change natural habbits)
Normally when I begin I get the normal thoughts and things popping into my minds eye and I just label it as "thought" and then draw my attention back to the sensations on my object of focus. (Obviously some days the "thoughts" are thicker and faster than others but thats not the issue as such)
Well when I feel that I am getting deeper - if you like - into my practice and my breathing gets much shallower I find that I find it much more difficult to label distracting monkey mind thoughts as thoughts as I did previously as often I am unsure if they are or not. It seems like the greater my focus of my breathing the greater the intensity of the thoughts or maybe its that they are of a different quality than previously. Sometimes it seems like they pop out of nowhere (I know this is not the case) but whereas previously the causal connections are quite clear these are like freak waves; striking without warning and, I feel, sweeping me away.
It quite difficult for me to express as its such a subjective thing, like trying to describe a dream to someone - it is this and its also that.
Has anyone else expreienced anything similar to this? I mean I will continue on regardless and be aware of these things as they arise and watch them trying to understand more, but it feels that where I have built up and understanding of my mind and its little flares and tics to a certain level I now feel powerless with these things, as I said, sweeping me away. I only seem to be aware of whats happened half way down the road.
Any assistance, ideas or similar experiences would be a great help.

With kindness
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Ben » Tue Apr 13, 2010 11:29 am

Hi Jack
What you experience reminds me of experiences I had practicing anapana (samatha variant) nearly continuously for six days on a 20 day course. What I think might be going on is that through practicing anapana, you are becoming more sensitive to mental events. In my situation I could clearly observe thoughts arising. What I recommend you do is to continue with your practice but try and remain aware of the sensation of respiration. If distracting thoughts arise, try and maintain awareness of the breath. In this way you'll develop deeper samatha. And no one needs to tell me just how difficult it can be - its like trying to grab an eel. But it is worthwhile perservering with it.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Freawaru » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:16 am

Hello Jack,

JackV wrote:Hello people.

The title may be a bit misleading in terms of what this post is actually about but I cannot think of another way to phrase it.
To set the scene I have been practicing daily for the last month or so focusing on my breathing in and out with special attention to the sensation of the enter and exit of air in my nose (I tend to breath through my nose so I figured I wouldn't change natural habbits)
Normally when I begin I get the normal thoughts and things popping into my minds eye and I just label it as "thought" and then draw my attention back to the sensations on my object of focus. (Obviously some days the "thoughts" are thicker and faster than others but thats not the issue as such)
Well when I feel that I am getting deeper - if you like - into my practice and my breathing gets much shallower I find that I find it much more difficult to label distracting monkey mind thoughts as thoughts as I did previously as often I am unsure if they are or not. It seems like the greater my focus of my breathing the greater the intensity of the thoughts or maybe its that they are of a different quality than previously. Sometimes it seems like they pop out of nowhere (I know this is not the case) but whereas previously the causal connections are quite clear these are like freak waves; striking without warning and,


Yes. In my experience the stronger the focus the more decoherent, more spontaneous the thoughts( or images, memories and so on) appear seemingly out of nowhere and without logical interconnection.

I feel, sweeping me away.


There are two ways to proceed when in this stage. Either to refocus on the object of meditation (samatha meditation) or to observe the spontaneousness (anicca) of the thoughts (insight meditation).

It quite difficult for me to express as its such a subjective thing, like trying to describe a dream to someone - it is this and its also that.
Has anyone else expreienced anything similar to this? I mean I will continue on regardless and be aware of these things as they arise and watch them trying to understand more, but it feels that where I have built up and understanding of my mind and its little flares and tics to a certain level I now feel powerless with these things, as I said, sweeping me away. I only seem to be aware of whats happened half way down the road.
Any assistance, ideas or similar experiences would be a great help.

With kindness


When at this point of your meditation do you label the thoughts as "thoughts" in a verbal sense?
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby JackV » Wed Apr 14, 2010 1:11 pm

Hi.

In regards to your question do I label them verbally or not, initially I do but it doesn't feel quite right. However as I proceed through mindfullness of all my daily actions I have found that without actually mentally-verbally marking thoughts as recollections etc then they are harder to remove oneself from. It seems to make the distiction between thought and observation easier.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby altar » Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:03 pm

I have questions related to this as well.
My personal take is this: Such thoughts are already going on. If you revert back to the breath, it is very possible you will be suppressing them in order to focus on the breath. If you can "loosen" your awareness so as to both keep your mind on your breath, while not shutting out the thoughts, even observe them, this seems to me like the most skillful thing to do. Like, don't "go into meditation mode." That exact same state that you were experiencing the thoughts in, or just whatever exact state it is, you don't have to change it. You don't have to keep it either. But maybe observe the time at which you are reverting back to breath. Is there a quick "Okay back to the breath" moment, where you kind of "get serious" but are actually blocking out all the other thoughts? This may be necessary depending on your level of meditation. But if you can become more aware during this time it might be useful. That's s one of the things I've been doing.
Looking forward to feedback.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Freawaru » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:59 am

JackV wrote:Hi.

In regards to your question do I label them verbally or not, initially I do but it doesn't feel quite right.


The way I understand this technique of teachers such as Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw it is a useful way to begin to label them in a verbal sense (without saying them I mean, just thinking the thought in a language). But with increasing concentration one becomes aware of the faster thoughts and then using a term in a language is too slow. When during a sitting the concentration is good and steady I suggest to stop the verbal labeling. Instead feel how the awareness itself seems to "fall" on each thought. As if there was a sensor that is triggered by the thought arising and then awareness moves to the thought like a beam, illuminating it for a moment before turning itself to the next thought. It is very important to not judge the content of the thoughts at this moment, because any judgement will prolong the thought and give it power to continue.

During this kind of practice sometimes a lot of garbage comes up, stuff we have suppressed for years for various reasons. This garbage has stored a lot of momentum and because of this it can break our mindfulness and we identify with the content again. When such a thought with a lot of momentum arises it would be best to keep the awareness and just let the thoughts do their thing but as I said this can be difficult. If it does not work I suggest to identify the thought's content and commit it to memory to deal with it at a later time (but you really have to keep your promise!). Then go back to observing the thoughts as before.

However as I proceed through mindfullness of all my daily actions I have found that without actually mentally-verbally marking thoughts as recollections etc then they are harder to remove oneself from. It seems to make the distiction between thought and observation easier.


Yes, I guess that is why one starts this way. The idea is to initiate that mirror-like awareness that reflects the thoughts and recognises them. Every thought generates two different ways of experiencing it: the experience of the thought itself and the experience of observing the thought. Thus one has to generate a second mind-mode and that is by labeling verbally.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby nathan » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:30 am

Two things happen when we meditate. We continue to observe things about the body and mind that we weren't aware of before and when we do that this has an effect on how we think about the body and the mind. Rather than thinking of meditation as something technical where the more immediate results are all important it can be helpful to free ourselves of those kinds of progressive expectations and to instead think of meditation as an exploration. When we practice a technique we judge our success on how successful we were in realizing the objectives of the technique but when we undertake an exploration we can be content to simply discover and learn about things we were previously unaware of. With most meditation methods we are attempting to progressively overcome our ignorance about our own body and mind so really it is very much like an exploration.

Whether using a method that mainly promotes precision in insightful noting of what is happening in the present or using a method that mainly promotes bringing the mind into more full concentration both of these qualities continue to be closely related in the mind itself. Concentration supports the capacity to note with more precision and the capacity to discern phenomena more precisely supports concentration. If you approach your meditation as an open ended exploration without any expectations of what quality will predominate or what sorts of phenomena will be observed, the meditation will be beneficial regardless of what happens.

Meditation and the considerations and understandings that it eventually produces is a cumulative process. Every moment of attention is of primary importance for that moment but overall it is the long term changes in understanding produced by all of this skillful attention that are more significant.

The methods and techniques that we employ become more skillful as we continue to apply ourselves in the present and changes in how we apply our attention will also continue to be a part of this for as long as we continue to apply ourselves.

In the long run it is not very useful to become too concerned about how the appearances of things in meditation change from day to day, week to week and year to year. It is more important to simply pay attention, in each and every moment, and to continue with the exploration. If you remain conscientious about paying attention to the phenomena of the present whenever you meditate and you meditate consistently, then with time most of the questions about specific phenomena that arise along the way will come to be seen as inconsequential but the truth of things as they are within your mind and body will become increasingly apparent and that will do a great deal to put your mind at ease about many things because you will eventually understand your own mind and body very well.

Phenomena can seem odd when you observe it for the first time but if you simply relax and remain attentive it will eventually explain itself.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby JackV » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:49 am

I think the points that everyone have made have already been sort of in my mind anyway. I think as long as you understand the purpose of what your doing i.e. meditating / mindfullness you generally have a good idea of how what to do overall.
Its always great to get feedback such as this though, thank you very much for it, its invaluable in preventing your concerns becoming magnified and monstrous the way things have a tendancy to do when you have no way to express them outwardly.

Thanks people I appreciate the help.
Here where a thousand
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Tall grasses their monument.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Freawaru » Thu Apr 15, 2010 6:45 pm

Hi Jack,

JackV wrote:
Its always great to get feedback such as this though, thank you very much for it, its invaluable in preventing your concerns becoming magnified and monstrous the way things have a tendancy to do when you have no way to express them outwardly.


I know what you mean. It is something I still struggle with myself. Whenever something new develops itself I start to worry. I worry because I never heard about it, because I don't know what it is or means. For example, about nine years ago I started to become aware of flashes of dream memories whenever I did something that didn't require much concentration (say, cooking). I relaxed into a well known activity and suddenly I got those flashes, sometime they were so fast and short I didn't even recognise the specific dream. Before I could recognise and memorise them with my wake memory they were gone already. So I worried. But over the years it has become ordinary, it happens - no problem. Sometimes I even work with it, trying to prolong and intensify the different kind of memory. It is more real than my usual memory, I mean, with it I recall dreams (and lately real events, too) almost as if experiencing them again. Very useful for detailed recall. I have always wanted a photographic memory - maybe this is my ticket to it ...

For some weeks now I am constantly aware of my body vibrating. It feels like the engine of a car. I mean, I know these kind of vibration from meditation sessions but I lately can't seem to not be aware of them. And guess what: I worry again! What happens? Why does this happen? Where will it lead to? Is it kinda dangerous? :cookoo:
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby nathan » Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:18 am

Yeah, that's what paying attention is like. It helps a lot to understand that most of what happens in the mind and body has been happening all along whether we paid attention to it or not. If we don't have a compelling reason to pay attention to most of it we won't. So the main thing that is happening that is new when we practice meditation is that we are paying attention to this kind of stuff at all. It's relatively rare that something about what happens in the mind and body actually changes because we are paying attention other than that the mind can be more attentive or that it can be more completely concentrated. If that is kept in mind it is easier to relax when noticing something for the first time. It is also good to remember to reflect that "this is not me, not mine, not myself." So letting go of continually looking for something that is "new" and the consideration that anything is "me" can both help to relax the mind into greater alertness and deepening calmness.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Freawaru » Mon Apr 19, 2010 6:43 pm

Hi Nathan,

nathan wrote:Yeah, that's what paying attention is like. It helps a lot to understand that most of what happens in the mind and body has been happening all along whether we paid attention to it or not.


Indeed. It was one of my main questions: were the flashes of dream memories something new or had my mind been flashing dream memories all the time and I had not been aware of it before? It is kinda difficult to find out in retrospect. But discussing dream memories flashes on a forum some people wrote that they have them during sitting meditation so at least I guess it is not something "dangerous".

If we don't have a compelling reason to pay attention to most of it we won't.


Yes. The mind is an expert when it comes to blocking stuff out. But it has to. People whose mind is not good at blocking are not so good at concentration.

So the main thing that is happening that is new when we practice meditation is that we are paying attention to this kind of stuff at all. It's relatively rare that something about what happens in the mind and body actually changes because we are paying attention other than that the mind can be more attentive or that it can be more completely concentrated. If that is kept in mind it is easier to relax when noticing something for the first time. It is also good to remember to reflect that "this is not me, not mine, not myself." So letting go of continually looking for something that is "new" and the consideration that anything is "me" can both help to relax the mind into greater alertness and deepening calmness.


Sure, but you see those vibrations are kinda distracting. I mean, I have not yet experienced a serious problem of body coordination but it is rather odd to feel your legs and feet, well, vibrating themselves down the stairs. The tactile sense is confused. When giving attention to the the vibrations the body does not seem to be quite where it really is but fluctuating around it's physical position. So I worry again. It would be truly helpful if someone would explain what it is and where it will lead to (hopefully something useful) because then I would see some reason to take care to discern between real tactile sensation and those vibrations instead of just working on blocking them out again.
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby nathan » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:28 am

Freawaru wrote:Hi Nathan,

Sure, but you see those vibrations are kinda distracting. I mean, I have not yet experienced a serious problem of body coordination but it is rather odd to feel your legs and feet, well, vibrating themselves down the stairs. The tactile sense is confused. When giving attention to the the vibrations the body does not seem to be quite where it really is but fluctuating around it's physical position. So I worry again. It would be truly helpful if someone would explain what it is and where it will lead to (hopefully something useful) because then I would see some reason to take care to discern between real tactile sensation and those vibrations instead of just working on blocking them out again.


I see what you mean. It doesn't sound too alarming. I guess I won't tell you any of my weird stories though. I find the satisfactory answers to "what is this now?" questions come from just continuing to examine the stuff. I think the responses apart from that generally run towards consulting a physician if you are really concerned about something. Your comfort level will probably change along with things if you take your time with it. If it is disorienting give it the added attention it requires. That's what I do. I have watched a lot of otherwise "whole-seeming" forms of experience break apart into smaller bits and pieces on further inspection and it comes across in different ways. Sometimes the senses seem more impacted by it than other times but it all sheds light on similar kinds of things going on. Some things I get used to, some of it passes. If it doesn't lead to more understanding it is probably of less use to further understanding so that is probably the real determinant of whether I will continue to pay attention or not. Some of the more uncomfortable things have been more helpful for me. You will probably know best whether or not to give something more or less attention as long as you don't rule newly noticed things out too quickly.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Thought intensity

Postby Freawaru » Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:03 am

Hi Nathan,

thank you for your insights :smile:

nathan wrote:
I see what you mean. It doesn't sound too alarming. I guess I won't tell you any of my weird stories though.


If you ever want to share feel free to do so. I love weird stories :wink:

I find the satisfactory answers to "what is this now?" questions come from just continuing to examine the stuff. I think the responses apart from that generally run towards consulting a physician if you are really concerned about something. Your comfort level will probably change along with things if you take your time with it. If it is disorienting give it the added attention it requires.


Yes, I do that. When I sit or lie down I try to increase my discernment of what exactly is the "physical" body and what those vibrations. It is also interesting to note the moment they appear during the waking up process.

That's what I do. I have watched a lot of otherwise "whole-seeming" forms of experience break apart into smaller bits and pieces on further inspection and it comes across in different ways. Sometimes the senses seem more impacted by it than other times but it all sheds light on similar kinds of things going on. Some things I get used to, some of it passes. If it doesn't lead to more understanding it is probably of less use to further understanding so that is probably the real determinant of whether I will continue to pay attention or not. Some of the more uncomfortable things have been more helpful for me. You will probably know best whether or not to give something more or less attention as long as you don't rule newly noticed things out too quickly.


:smile:
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