How do you do?
When you close your eyes and watch your breath, what percentage of the thoughts that you noticed was ‘intentional’? And what percentage of your thoughts was ‘unintentional’ or ‘uninvited’?
When we ask this question in seminars, some of the more overly confident students will say, “It was 50-50! About half my thoughts were intentional and half were random.” But then, someone else will question, “Really? I felt like ALL my thoughts were random.” Whereupon a chorus of other participants will chime in, “Yeah, it really seemed like at least 99% of all my thoughts were random.” Feeling that they may have been a little too optimistic, the first, overly-confident person generally concedes, “Well, er… hmmm…. I guess it would be more accurate to say 90% of my thoughts were random after all.”
In just a short five-minute period of time, we notice that the vast majority of our thinking is utterly random, out of our control, or simply uninvited. For many people, this is a discouraging and even frightening realization. “Wow,” they think, “If that’s what it’s like in just five minutes, what does that mean for the way I live the rest of my life?”
The great news is that in mindfulness training you are not trying to stop your random, involuntary thoughts. You are learning to have a different relationship to them. When you are practicing it is 100% OK and expected that the involuntary thoughts and distractions will arise. This is, in fact, part of the meditation process. The mindfulness practice is really about how you respond to such involuntary mental and emotional occurrences. Do you notice them with interest? Or do you believe and buy into every desire, criticism, and fantasy of what the mind did or did not say is good or bad?
Many people who start trying mindfulness exercises can feel disheartened by the initial insight that they have streams of random, uninvited thoughts. We all do! Yet, when they first start noticing their busy minds many people prematurely conclude that meditation is not for them. But this is just like a couch potato who one day decides to run a marathon and finds that by the end of the first 200 yards they are winded, cramped, and unable to run another foot. The problem isn’t the activity. The real problem is lack of training. And this is where mindfulness training comes in to practice. You can train your minds so that you are better able to choose how you engage with any situation.
Until now, we’ve been discussing what mindfulness is: simple, present-moment awareness of whatever is happening right now, whether it is a sound, a bodily sensation, or a thought. And even though this is a basic faculty or skill of our minds, unless you train this capacity, the forces of mindlessness will tend to prevail.Follow us