Dealing with Thoughts (in life and in meditation) – Tara Brach

Dealing with Thoughts (in life and in meditation) – Tara Brach

And I can say that the most common
Message I get from new students, when, you know, I say, Well,
how was the meditation? … is, Well, my thought was, my mind was
really busy. You know, I think a lot. [LAUGH] You know? And I usually
want to say, You and all of us. Because our minds secrete thoughts,
Like our bodies secrete enzymes. It’s just what minds do – they
think. It’s part of survival, it’s supposed to happen. It ensures
survival, it ensures flourishing. So we’re not trying to stop thoughts and
we’re not trying to control thoughts. What we are intending is cultivating a
wise relationship with thoughts. I sometimes imagine like an airplane, you
know, when it goes through a cloud how, in the middle of the cloud is like
all the whole world is cloud and just seems like that’s the universe. But
then when it gets out of the cloud, the cloud’s in the field, but you just
sense the vastness of what is. When we’re inside a thought and we forget
ourselves, we forget its forgetfulness. We forget the fullness of awareness. The
whole world is shaped by that cloud. So how can we be aware of thinking? The classic line is that thinking is a
very good servant and a very, very poor master. It’s a good servant
because we know it. If we’re traveling, we need a map, we need
GPS. Guidance is really, really helpful. If we want to build a building, we have to
visualize it and see what it’s going to look like. If we want to heal a disease,
we have to sense the causation and drug interactions, and what’s an
integrated approach that’s–we have to think about things. I definitely think a
lot before I give these talks. And then part of me goes, Okay, anything
that really matters about this talk is not going to come through thinking –
and then I try to stop thinking. [LAUGH] It’s like I have to have an
experience, then try to put it into words. That’s a–I didn’t mean to go
there. But [LAUGH] we have to, part of the spiritual path is
the wise use of thought. In other words, we contemplate
the Metta meditation, the love and kindness meditation. It’s a
reflection on where goodness is. Compassion is a reflection on where
vulnerability is. We use our minds to help turn us towards the light, but the
thoughts aren’t the thing itself. When thoughts are the master… it’s
because we’re caught in obsessing. We’re lost in them, they’re driven by
fear. They show up as judgment, and it’s a prison. It’s like you
can sense that your body and mind is living in something smaller
than the truth of who you are. Thinking then becomes, when it’s a master,
a prison. I remember some years ago, working with a student and he was very
caught in self-judging thoughts. And he said that he reminded
himself of this tiger, this regal white tiger that he had visited
in the Washington DC National Zoo. The tiger’s name was Mohini. And Mohini was put in this cage that was like
about a 12 by 12 cage with iron bars and a cement floor. And for years Mohini
would just go back and forth, pacing, pacing. You’ve seen how it happens
in these tigers in cages in a zoo. And eventually, what happened
was the biologists and staff worked together to create
this amazing natural habitat for her. Several acres had hills and a pond
and, you know, a variety of vegetation. So it was with a lot of excitement and
anticipation that the staff brought Mohini to her new home, but it was too
late. Because when the tiger was released, she immediately sought refuge
in a corner of the compound, and just began pacing the same kind
of pacing, 12 feet by 12 feet, back and forth. And she did that for
the rest of her life, wearing bare this stretch
of grass. So perhaps, the biggest tragedy that we kind of sense
in our lives is that freedom is possible. When we sense this possibility of
Loving without holding back and of really resting in a radiance,
an awareness that’s very open. We sense the possibility of
presence in the moments, and we watch each day how we
re-contract and play out old patterns. So the tragedy feeling is,
it’s possible, but… we get so habituated. So the
key to unlocking the door, you know, the key to opening
us out of that prison is to begin to bring a mindful
attention to the patterns. So we’re not just living in them
and playing them out over and over. So mindfulness of thoughts means
being aware of them, not being identified. And it enables us to realize, and this is
the big thing, that thoughts are thoughts, they’re not reality. And the
biggest breakthrough, truly, the biggest breakthrough I see happening
at retreats–and it just goes deeper and deeper–is this recognition:
I don’t have to believe my thoughts. I am not my thoughts. In other words, that
self that my thoughts is telling me about is not me. It’s the same thing, really.
Different expressions of it. So what we’ll do is explore
some key skillful means that help us to become more
mindful of thinking. So we can realize what we are beyond
thoughts. And the first is just a very simple, just to get us kind of deepening
our attention to thinking. Again, I’d like to invite you to close your eyes
and let your attention go within. Take a few breaths, let yourself
Feel collected. Come right here. Just to imagine that you’re like
a cat by a mouse hole. And you’re going to be counting whatever
mice kind of peek out or run out. You’re counting thoughts. And
that in the next very short while, your only job is to notice the thoughts
that come and just number them. So just feel yourself and your body, feel
your breath, whatever helps you to know you’re here. And know your intention is to
count your thoughts. Okay. Please begin. Okay. Opening your eyes… Come on back. So let me check with you. How
many of you had under 10? Okay. There’s under 10 people here…
[LAUGH] How about 10 to 20? The 10 to 20 zone? 20 to 30? 30 to 40? Over 40? Over 100? [LAUGH] So just to take a
Moment and sense, as you were being that cat by the mouse hole,
what the thoughts actually were? And how many of you had thoughts
that came kind of audio, like word, words or sound bites.
Can I see by hands? I’m just curious. Okay. How many of, more had kind of
images, maybe a background message or something, but more imagery?
Yeah. How many were still shots? Movie? How many had kind of like a movie?
Okay. So some of you noticed that it could be more in motion kind of like a
movie. Sometimes, they’re body-based. You might have noticed that you had a
thought, but it was some impression. But you could really kind of feel the
sense of it in your body. And some you might have noticed that you had
kind of sneaky thoughts like, Oh, it’s getting quieter.
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] Or, Oh, just the naming of a number is a thought,
right? Anybody get caught in that loop? [LAUGH]Uh-huh. And sometimes, they’re emotionally tangly,
like, I’m really not doing this right. I really don’t, you know, or
some reaction to it and then you start sensing that the thought
comes with a lot of energy. So the deal is that thoughts are
representations of reality. They come as, you know,
usually images, sound bites, some combination of it. The
most important recognition, and this is the phrase that I like the
best, is that thoughts are real, but they’re not true. And by that, I mean,
they’re representations of reality. They really are happening, but
they’re not the reality itself. In other words, if you saw a photo of a
tree or you had a thought of a tree, it wouldn’t be the actual living tree that
you know with its leaves budding, and turning colors, and falling off,
and swaying in the breeze or still, or the smell of blossoms, or the
feeling of the bark. It’s not that. Right? It’s a representation. John Audubon said, If there’s a difference between the bird and what the guidebook says, believe the bird.
[LAUGH] You know? [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] And some of you know that for many
years, I had a favorite t-shirt and it said: Meditation, it’s not what
you think. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] So when our minds are very busy,
when we’re in that incessant dialog, we tend to conflate thoughts
with reality. In other words, they’re not in our mind representations,
they’re not a map… They are it. We’re believing
what’s going on in our mind. So, most styles of meditation begin by saying,
Let’s get quiet a little, not get rid of thoughts, but let’s do something to
collect the attention like the breath. Like scanning through the body, so that
they’re not taking over quite so much, so we can begin to be mindful of the fact
that they’re even happening. Okay. So we quiet a little. But then, the next
instructions deepen, and this is, these are instructions for getting mindful
of the thoughts themselves. And the first and major support that many people find helpful in
mindfulness of thinking is to do a little bit of mental
notation or naming. And you don’t have to do a lot, it doesn’t
have to be like every single thought, you’re naming it. But you’ll find that
in the moment of naming a thought, it really loosens the identification
with it. Clearly, it’s a thought, not the reality itself. So, you
might name the type of thought. Okay. This is a worry thought. This is a
planning thought. This is a remembering. Okay. You might say, This is a judging
thought, or I’m rehearsing again. A lot of us do a lot of rehearsing, or I’m figuring out, you know, figuring
Out thoughts. Sometimes, so we’re just going to name them. Sometimes
fantasizing, daydreaming. But then, if you’d like, for some of us we have our
Top Ten hits, and we know what they are. It’s like we know that we keep recycling,
and it might be that your Top Ten, one of your Top Ten is to do with work, or
to do with a struggle with a colleague, or is to do with a romance or an infatuation
that you’re having, or to do with dieting. Or to do with how you appear. Or to do
with redecorating or remodeling or we–we have our Top Ten. Right?
So, it’s not to get rid of them, but to know they’re happening,
that you might say, Okay, you know, thoughts about sickness. I remember
when I was struggling with sickness. I was constantly trying to figure out what
was wrong with me and what would make me better. So I’d just call it, you know,
sick person thinking. You know, just like, Okay, I’m a sick person trying to
figure out my sickness. It helped. Gives a little bit of space, and then
there’s a little bit of choice, which is the whole deal. So the first step
is a little bit of this naming. It’s basically recognizing thinking
Is happening right now. And it’s a very friendly, soft,
non-judging recognition. If you recognize thinking and you
carry with that a really big judgment, like this is a sign of bad
meditatorship or something like that, you know?
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] If, in other words, if you start getting on your own case,
all you’ve done is add another thought, a judging thought. That’s
really fear based and just keeps on fueling reactivity.
So, part of the power of mindfulness is to recognize with really no judgment,
just recognize, okay, thinking. Some of you might remember
this wonderful poem by Kaveri Patel. She writes this, she says, There’s a
monkey in my mind, swinging on a trapeze, reaching back to the past, or leaning
into the future, never standing still. Sometimes, I want to kill that monkey…
Shoot it square between the eyes, so I won’t have to think anymore,
or feel the pain of worry. But today I thanked her, and she
jumped down straight into my lap, trapeze still swinging as we sat still. Do you have a sense of the attitude?
Because this is what’s key. As we cultivate mindfulness of our
thoughts, one part of the attitude is be friendly. Just be friendly, just
happening. Be curious. Okay. Thinking, and this is another virtual reality I’m
creating. Be good humored. There, I mean, they’re really wacky. There’s a
saying that the mind has no shame. [LAUGH] You know, it goes
anywhere, does everything. So that’s the first part–is this kind of
knowing it’s happening, naming it. And the second part, you
might call it letting go. I think of it more as, if you’re clutched
onto a thought, as relaxing the grip and just reopening back into
our senses. When we’re thinking, we’ve left our senses. Check it out.
When you come back from a thought, you’ll notice that while you were
thinking, you weren’t in touch with your body. You weren’t hearing the sounds
that are actually happening right here. You weren’t feeling whatever mood is
going on, you were in a virtual reality. So we relax the clutch onto
the thought, the contraction, and listen again, and
feel in our body again. Let the senses be your home base. Come
back, come back, come back. And then, and here’s a really,
really valuable piece… Notice the difference between
any thought and this mysterious, ever-changing aliveness
that’s right here. This presence that’s here.
Just notice the difference. When you come back from a thought,
sometimes coming back will be really unpleasant. You’ll be having a thought
about something’s that’s really agitating. And when you kind of let go of the content
of thought and come into your body, you’re going to have to actually directly
contact the vulnerability and agitation. So the point isn’t that, when you let go
of thoughts and come back into presence, it’s all like crystal rainbows of light,
you know, and fun and pleasure it’s, it’s just whatever was going on.
But it’s the reality of the moment. It’s the one place where we can
begin to discover compassion, and in the space between the thoughts, that’s the one place where
wisdom can really begin to arise.

Comments (18)

  1. I enjoy your talks immensely. You have had a positive influence on perspectives that have benefited my life. I thank you for the gifts you have given me, by helping me understand myself.
    Namaste & vibes of healing, love and contentment in your and your family's hearts… from me to you.

  2. Absolutely loved this <3 The cure for pain is in the pain. ~ Rumi

  3. This talk has so many lightbulb  AHA moments that I lost count of them.Thank you for such wonderful insight.

  4. Thank you so much, Tara. You are deeply appreciated.

  5. love taras talks but found that tiger story really triggering. 😣 made meditating very challenging

  6. That's a good Mohini story (white tiger).

  7. Thank you Tara Brach, your knowledge is really helpful and appreciated.

  8. My Thoughts are like a sky full of beautiful kites
    I feel their power, the power of the sky, the power of the wind.
    My thoughts are like an aquarium
    Full of undulating jellyfish—captivating color and movement.
    But in the now of life my thoughts sting.
    My ability to recall facts is extraordinary.
    They call me Webster.
    The same recall applied to my worst memories is a hall of horrors
    The distortion of shame turned all the way up.
    These are the jellyfish I battle.
    Meditation invited me to turn my mind from the kites
    To my boring breath
    My boring body, within boring walls. Nothing special
    The sweet breath took away the Jellyfish.
    Now in the moment. No Piranhas. Peace.
    I assume the kites will be there when I’m ready.
    The music of the band. When I’m ready.

  9. Ella es muy hermosa.

    She is beutiful.

  10. Thankyou for such amazing teachings x

  11. That was incredible. Thank you!

  12. Tragic story about the tiger. Zoos are prisons for creatures who have committed no crimes. (Yes, I know that isn't the point of this talk, but the story made me sad and it was hard to get past it.)

  13. I didn't understand one thing, if our second part is feelin our body again for dealing with thoughtss it means we are running from our thoughts but at the same time i am trying accept them, these two things are different, what should i do or did i understand something wrong ?

  14. Tara helped me to learn more about the nature of thoughts and allowing them to be a part of the reality of the moment. Instructional.

  15. I dont get 15 people who gave her unlike. What do you like mates ?

  16. the story of the tiger:

  17. yeaaaa I love what she is saying!

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