Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Friends, We are coming to the end of the week. Hopefully this message finds you at ease and healthy. I wanted to follow up our class with a link to the recording in case you missed or wanted to review anything covered. I will also be posting a few exercises over the weekend related to mindfulness of thoughts. I encourage you to play around with practicing with noticing your thoughts. Build up some skill in labeling the thoughts and not get drawn into the juicy, alarming, fun, enticing, and/or scary narratives. That ego of ours wants to keep us limited, tied up inside of the confines of our mind, running in circles having the same thoughts over and over again. But with practice we can break the habit of being ourselves, lay down new neural pathways, and move into the next version of ourselves, the one that experiences more ease, less suffering, finds joy more easily, moves through the world with more resources and is more in our natural power and stability as a human. So here is this weeks recording.
As well as the written form of the class. Talk – Your thoughts are not facts • There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.― Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World • What I think this story is pointing towards is that we are surrounded by the causes and conditions of negatively biased thoughts, but through practice we can develop a discernment on the direction we want to lead our mind to start planting the seeds of more thoughts that bring about ease and the end of suffering. But first we have to become aware of the content of our thoughts. • So let's do that little 30-second or one-minute practices. You don't have to change your posture particularly, but when you're ready, just let your eyes close, and what we're going to do is count thoughts, all right? , "There haven't been many thoughts yet, have there?" • It is natural to have a mind that thinks. What we take away from this is even for longtime practitioners of mediation - thoughts still come to us while we meditate. • Why does the mind think • The human brain which is the center of our thoughts, contains 86 billion neurons and accounts for about 2% of our body weight and there are approximated. But our neurons are not just limited to our brain, there are • 40 thousand neurons in the heart • 100 million neurons in the stomach and gut • There are neurons in all major organs of the human body, the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, sex organs, etc • The causes are the stimuli and circumstances we experience. These experiences have causal impacts on our bodies, and are also partly caused by our bodies. The forces inside and outside the body become manifest in the brain as "clouds" of information. In the right circumstances these nebulous patterns can condense into streams of thought. - Yohan John, Neuroscience PhD • Neuroscience research shows that the average person has up to 60,000 thoughts a day, which is 42 thoughts a minute or nearly 1 thought/second. • 80% were negative • 95% of thoughts were repeat thoughts • 85% of worry thoughts never really happen • Conclusion 97% of our worrying thoughts are baseless and result from unfounded pessimistic perception • The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times • Negative thinking and how it affects the brain and body • Cortisol, a stress hormone, breaks down the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps form new memories. ... The more cortisol that's released in response to negative experiences and thoughts, the more difficult it can become, over time, to form new wholesome/joyful/healthful memories. • How does our daily experience in the times like now where we are living with a world contending with the corona virus affect our thinking? • News and Media outlets have an unrelenting coverage of all aspects of the corona virus 99.9% of the headlines are based in fear o Coronavirus may never go away, even with vaccine o Deaths cross 100,000 in US, where will it end o Nasa unveils plans on how to stop a virus from outerspace • Social Distancing and stay at home o According to the American Psychological Association the risks of social isolation results in loneliness. "Loneliness, it seems, can lead to long-term "fight-or-flight" stress signaling, which negatively affects immune system functioning. Simply put, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don’t." • The overwhelming desire that we have for ourselves is to be at ease and to experience joy and happiness. But how can that happen when we are being bombarded by negative thoughts. The short answer is we need to change the balance of our thoughts from a negative bias that we naturally fall into. • Our mind evolved to keep us alive and safe from the being hunted by our enemies and wild animals. Our mind quite frankly is wired to favor negative thoughts, the fight or flight response. But we no longer live in a world where we are in constant danger. • Jack Kornfield has said One of the first insights that come to people entering into mindfulness meditation is called "seeing the waterfall." Often when you invite a student to sit quietly and sense their breath and body and notice what's happening, their eyes spring open at the end and they say, "I couldn't stop thinking“. • The question is how do we move from state of negative bias thoughts to a state of wholesome/healthy bias thoughts? • In Eckhart Tolle's recent talk on Transcending Fearful thoughts he says "all it requires is a little bit of awareness - the awareness of what is going on in your mind. To recognize but not identify with what is going on in your mind. It is a background awareness of what is going on in your mind." In other words we need to develop mindfulness of the mind or the thoughts being thought by the mind. • What does that look like? • "I encourage you to become a dispassionate observer of your own experience." • Or put another way become the loving awareness that is the observer of the thinking mind. • That is where we often get it wrong here in the west about what meditation really is. We are under some belief that a good mediation or a great meditator is one that has no thoughts. • While that certainly is one state of mind that a meditator might find themselves in. More often than not, there are plenty of thoughts to take us away for a ride. • The mind is an organ in our human body and it is responsible for many functions including thinking. It spontaneously generates thoughts - unbidden. Thoughts take many forms • Words • Images • Ideas, • Visions • Memories • Plans • Fantasies • For some people, that is an enormous moment of clarity, just to realize how much is going on there because we're so identified with our thoughts. • And when we begin to be aware of the mind, we also begin to have the doorway of liberation opened. We see that the beliefs and the way we perceive the world are not necessarily the way that it is. • I remember my first realization that this was true for me when I attended my first mediation at San Francisco Insight Meditation and Eugene Cash was giving the dharma talk. Somewhere towards the end of the dharma talk Eugene said the following - "Your thoughts are not facts". It was hard for me to believe but after careful reflection I realized the majority of my thoughts. It was an ah ha moment for me • It is often easy to get lost in our thoughts. I like to think of the thoughts coming out of my mind like a train. First comes the engine (the mind) followed by train cars, linked one after another, with the caboose on the end. Our thoughts are like the train cars, each train car being a thought. If you are standing by the train tracks as the train passes by, you can be an observer of what kind of a thought is inside of each of the train car as they pass by. Or as often happens, one of those thoughts looks too irresistible and we jump in the car as it passes. Once on the train, we can go from one car to the next visiting all of these thoughts, this is the moment we lose conscious awareness and we get lost in our thoughts. • As we practice with being aware of our thoughts it is often helpful to just look into the thought as it passes by and label it, Judging, worrying, planning, fantasizing. This helps to reduce the stickiness of the thought. Thoughts are sticky and they want to draw us into their narrative. • The moment you get on the train is the moment we lose a state of awareness - or no longer are the observer. • The moment we realize we are thinking, that is the moment of conscious awareness. It is that moment of awareness, presence, kindness towards ourselves and our thoughts that allows us to take the first step in building steadiness in our life. And like the woman in the story being chased by tigers and hanging by a vine over a cliff about to be dropped into a pack of tigers at the foot of the cliff by a nibbling mouse, we have a choice on how we arrive in the present moment. We can make a choice on the direction we take in the next step to lay down responses that are more wholesome and healthy that can start to reduce our negativity biase and move to a more wholesome/healthful bias in our thought stream. Talk - Introduction to mindfulness of thoughts "I encourage you to become a dispassionate observer of your own experience." Guided Practice Mindfulness of thoughts - script read by Ron Lets take a few moments to settle into feeling our body. You may be arriving after a busy morning. So it is always nice to arrive by using our bodies and our breath as an anchor to rest our attention up. To arrive and focus our awareness. Moment by moment gradually slowing down… settling into our present moment, this body, this breath. pause We have arrived and given ourselves a moment to settle. When you are ready, if you are feeling comfortable with these next suggestions, lets let go of our anchors of awareness the breath and body. As we let go of these anchors we will remain present and we will be moving more into the domain of thoughts and feelings. These thoughts will more of the center stage to our practice. Pause Watch the with curiosity at the thoughts as they arise moment by moment. There are all many kinds of thoughts. Thoughts of the past or future, planning, or worry, fantasy. As you see these thoughts, treat them as momentary soap bubbles floating by to be observed as they drift by in the breeze. Each bubble drifting by with its own thought content. Some floating away into the distance and other popping or evaporating. Soon to be replaced by another bubble. Pause Pay attention to the stream of thoughts each in its own bubble without being distracted by the content or the emotional charge of the individual thoughts. Instead rest comfortably observing the bubbles as they drift past. Let the story associated with each of those thoughts stay encapsulated inside of each of those bubbles. Pause Thoughts and the feelings associated with those thoughts can be observed and felt as events in our field of awareness without judgement. Pause Thoughts spring from your mind without any assistance. Spontaneously and without encouragement. pause Treat these thoughts as bubbles, temporary and impermanent. Instead of facts or truth, regardless of the content or the emotional charge, no matter how urgent they present themselves, or how often they show up. These thoughts may pleasant or seductive, or unpleasant or repulsive or even neutral. These neutral thoughts are so subtle they may be hard to even identify them as active thoughts. Pause Observe each of these thoughts with light attention. Not allowing yourself to get brought into the story contained within each bubble. Relate to the content of each bubble as if it were of equal importance and relevance as to what color your underwear was two weeks ago Tuesday. Even if it is a compelling or enticing thought, especially if it is a compelling or enticing thought. Pause Notice if the thoughts that you encounter are pictures or video thoughts, or word thoughts. Moment by moment, breath by breath, the thoughts drift by, just rest your awareness in the thinking and spaces and gaps between the thoughts. Pause Sometimes there is commentary and advice that we are offering ourselves as part of the process of watching our thinking. Recognize that as thinking as well, the process of thinking about the thinking. You may try observing the thought by just turning down the volume while you watch the game. The commentators fade to the background as the game plays one, so you are just observing the game without getting sucked into the stream of commentary and interpretation of the game as it plays out on the TV in your mind. Pause Notice how the thoughts easily feed into creating follow-on thoughts. Views, opinions, ideas, beliefs, plans, memories, stories. Notice how the explode and continue to give birth to more and more and more. If we feed into these follow-on thoughts we get lost in the thinking swept away by the breeze with the bubbles. If you notice you have been swept away temporarily lost or carried away by the cyclone of thoughts, simply return to your anchor of the body or the breath. This will carry you out of the cyclone of though and bring you back to ground, offering you some refuge. Use this as a way to focus your awareness. If you want to you can return to observing your thoughts or you can simply continue to work with your anchor. Do what feels right to you. Pause It is this practice of anchoring and returning to the awareness of the thoughts, repeated as often as needed with gentleness that allows us to build the muscle of awareness and observation. Allowing us to accept these thoughts as thoughts and the feelings as feelings, regardless of the content or the emotional charge. Pause This practice of observing without judgement or entanglement with the though or the feeling allows us to gain greater awareness with the content of our thoughts, what is on our mind, what feelings may fill our heart. Pause For the remainder of our time, until you hear the sound of the bell. Continue to practice with the focus of your awareness. If you are working with thoughts, simply notice arising and passing of thoughts, notice the start and the end of thought and the feelings. Perhaps notice the intensity or the subtleness of each of the thoughts. If you get lost in the flood of the thought bubbles, gently return to the anchor of the body or breath and return to the observing, letting the bubbles float by, no work is needed to bring the thoughts to us, they always arise. Pause. HOMEWORK : Notice what thoughts arise during your practice. Try writing down the thoughts you have while practicing in a journal. You don't have to go into tons of detail. You can use the labels we discussed, or a label with a headline - worrying thought about missing deadline for next week and not get into the content of the thought any further. Get interested in what comes up. If you are feeling bold, share what you discover with us next week.