TMJ 4: Observing your thoughts

This is the fifth post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.

The last post of TMJ appeared almost 2.5 years ago when I attended Vipassana at Dharamsala. The gap in between gave me a good time to actually practice what I had theorized or read. My understanding also has evolved and I see meditation as not a ten-minute exercise but a way of being. As you advance in your practice, you may not even need to sit in silence, focus on breath etc. – you can just do it seamlessly as you are doing whatever you are doing.

In that sense, the meaning of meditation has evolved from ‘focus‘ to ‘observation‘ for me. And this is a practice that came recommended by Partho and Sameer (both have been previously mentioned on this blog and can be called my mentors/friends). The idea is that we are now going toΒ observe our thoughts. Take yourself out of your body and observe yourself and the thoughts that are entering into your brain. Yes, that sounds weird when you read it the first time. It did to me too, but that is what it boils down to. This detaching yourself from the body and watching from afar is symbolic of recognizing your true ‘self’ which is not equivalent to your body. What is ‘I’? Body, soul, mind, ego? What do you identify yourself with? But that is a far bigger metaphysical question that I am not ready to explore in this post. So, lets get back to the process of ‘observing our mind’ for now.

This is how I was able to start it initially myself-

    • I sit for the breath meditation process as discussed in TMJ3.
    • I close my eyes, literally visualize a room and a glass jar. This jar is my mind. As thoughts occur to me, I visualize a wave trying to enter this jar.
    • As I begin counting breaths, soon a distracting thought will come. It is bound to come soon since we are beginners.

1…2…3…. ‘Oh God, will I be able to observe my thought?

This ‘Oh God, will I be able to observe my thought?‘ itself is an external thought!

  • So, in my visualization, I (who is me, the external watcher now) am holding a wand and shoo’ing this wave away. Squashing it away, like a fly! I am not letting it enter into the jar. As more thoughts come to you, keep doing this. You will feel like Harry Potter or Gandalf or Luke Skywalker – so far so good. Keep observing and discarding them away. This way, we are not letting our mind process these thoughts. We keep returning to our breaths after squashing any thought.

1…2…3…. ‘Oh God, will I be able to observe my thought?’…squash…1…2….3…….4….5….’This is stupid’…..squash….1….2..

Want to try this for 5 mins right now? Great, do it πŸ™‚

Ok, you will observe that this exercise needs immense focus. You will feel drained doing this even for 5 minutes. You will need your full attention to observe every minor thought but you can do it.

To understand it further, observing is what the word suggests – simply observing. This is also meditation because we are freeing ourselves from the cyclical thought processes. You might say that we are not freeing ourselves from those because they are still coming. And my answer is, “not really!”

You see, this act of observing is quite powerful. It defeats the negative impact of these thoughts. Even when a sad thought (e.g. I did not get the job) occurs to you and if you simply observe it – i.e. you are seeing that this sad thought is trying to enter your mind – you are not ‘feeling sad’ i.e. you have actually disabled its potency. Earlier, it would enter your conscious being, parts of your brain will process it, trigger an emotional reaction (I am worthless, feeling of insecurity) through hormones or whatever and you will see the physical reaction (anxiety, nervousness). But observing it this way keeps it at the fact/information stage. You have caught it before it creates this ruckus inside you. You have seen it for what it is – an objective statement – ‘I did not get a job’. Okay!

Notice that only when you process an information (received by your senses), that your brain creates the corresponding emotional and physical reaction. So, ‘I am sad/happy’ is never the information. It is always a reaction/outcome to some information. If we observe the thought at information level, it is caught before creating this reaction. Instead of we using our mind, it is the mind that uses us! It keeps processing information, converting it to counterproductive/unnecessary reactions and keep us juggling those all through our lives. We began the whole meditation exercise because we wanted to get back our control. And this is the first step towards it – to debilitate this act of mind.

This simple process of observation is no less than nirvana πŸ™‚ Why and how – I will discuss it next time. But I will implore that you try to observe yourself for 5 minutes today. See what happens.

P.S. A good book to read on the related matter is Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.