Should We Try to Resolve Thoughts in Meditation?

A few thousand years ago, back when the Buddha was alive—that was a very different world. There weren’t the distractions that there are today. Living back in that time, you were already much closer to being able to be in the now, because there was very little to distract from the now. 

There are different challenges now. The principles are what they are, and they still work. But the effort that’s required now is much greater. So it requires a different mindset and a different commitment. 

To eat when you’re eating. To sleep when you’re sleeping. To walk when you’re walking. To do what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Essentially, that means don’t be in the past, don’t be in the future, don’t be thinking about other things. Only do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. 

The modern mind is trained and conditioned to continually think multiple thoughts, multitask, and plan ahead. That’s what the modern mind has been programmed to do from birth. 

To now say, OK, unwind all of that–you don’t want that brain. You don’t want that mind anymore. You want the Buddha mind, which is ‘do what you’re doing when you’re doing it.’ Many people find that very challenging. 

Many Westerners have a hard time with meditation and no thought because they think ‘no thought’ means you think no thoughts. What it means is that you don’t attach to any thoughts. They are like a river that flows in the background, and you see them come and go. But you don’t jump into the river and grab one and drown with that thought, or flow down the river with more thoughts. You stay on the bank, and you watch those thoughts go by. 

You notice that there are thoughts happening, but you don’t attach a value or emotion to those thoughts. Those are just thoughts happening. When you are skilled at letting thoughts go down the river, you realize that thoughts descend on us. We think we’re the thinker of our thoughts when actually we’re the receiver of our thoughts. 

These thoughts don’t really have anything to do with us. But we personalize them, and in personalizing them we make them have something to do with us. 

In and of themselves, they don’t innately have anything to do with us, meaning we don’t have to do anything regarding those thoughts. But because we are living in an accomplishment culture, we think that we do have to do something with those thoughts. 

Once you get good at watching them and there aren’t any emotional charges, the body learns how to stay at peace, the mind stays at rest, and the ability to stay in the now is much simpler. 

One of the things that I notice sometimes is that if you carry into an attempt to meditate a worry, a concern, a fear, a regret, even as I try to meditate and I see them as just thoughts that my mind is just doing. There’s a feeling that has stuck to me and that’s what I want to get rid of even more than the thoughts about it. 

The feelings that come from those thoughts are culturally induced. Shame. Regret. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of whatever the fear is. Almost all those feelings are culturally induced. 

We need to start identifying how those feelings get set up and do they really belong to us or is it an external voice that we’re interpreting as internally who we are? 

So identifying that voice can help separate. It’s the same thing with the inner teacher. How do you identify the different voices? How do you know which one is which? It requires objective investigation. It’s playing 20 questions with each feeling.  

Give an example of a feeling that you want to get rid of from the thought. 

I hurt somebody’s feelings. The way I intellectualize those moments, and this is just an example would be I say to myself, OK, I’ve realized this is what’s happened now. I’m going to make it right in one way or another. I’m going to deal with it. And it’s a little lesson for me on how I want to behave going forward. I say all those things to myself, and it takes away most of this, but not always all of it. 

It’s important to realize that no conversation is ever final. Unless you decide it’s final. There’s always an opportunity to go back and revisit that conversation and make it right. 

The reason why most people don’t bother is that we’re taught as Americans that we shouldn’t let anything bother us. So, even if you try to make it right, the other person may brush it off and say, “Oh don’t worry about it.” Or “Why are you making a big deal out of it?” And then we’re made to feel as though we’re overreacting. 

The challenge in America is to know how to calibrate ourselves emotionally because most other people won’t help us acknowledge the truth. Other people are going to continue with the polite lie of “Oh, it doesn’t matter “or the American macho thing of “You’re too emotional” or “You think too much” or any other dismissive comment. They’re trying to set their boundaries by pushing you back because you’ve made them uncomfortable now.  

So, yes, the denial of trying to work out an emotion is a possibility. But then you have to realize that now what’s happening is their cultural conditioning is kicking in. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do everything on your part to make it right. 

Will that make it right? Not necessarily. But over time, you’ll get quicker at correcting things immediately. Then, when it happens in the moment, there won’t be that reaction of ‘why are you revisiting this? That happened 2 weeks ago.’ 

Some of it is just the way we communicate in the modern world; it’s most often not about sharing truth, it’s about manipulation and lies. 

In meditation, there are two different things going on there. There is the part of you who has become sensitized enough that you now have the ability to feel other people’s feelings. You have become empathic enough, and that’s what growing in spirituality does. Compassion turns to an empathic ability where you feel the other person’s feelings as your own. It’s not that I hurt that person’s feelings, it’s that I hurt “our” feelings. Our feelings are one. So what you’re actually trying to do is you’re trying to heal our feelings, which includes your feelings. 

Some of it is trying to help yourself feel better because you’re part of the whole, and if you feel better as part of the Whole that makes the whole feel better. 

The other part of it is cultural; I think I hurt that person’s feelings. I want to go back and address that because as a separate person I don’t want that person to be hurt. 

Those are two different things, but they can both be happening at the same time. And the cure for both is the same.  

The likelihood of a satisfactory resolution in the way that somebody would be hoping for in trying to address it is not high. 

Another way of handling that experience, rather than trying to address it with the person is to try to send healing to that energy exchange, to break up whatever sticky molecules are there. That acts as a letting go, a dissolving. Whereas when we try to go back into it, it can become more of an attachment — I’m attaching that I want you to accept this solution or this apology. And it can wind up getting more sticky. 

The reason why it’s not satisfactory for you at this point is you don’t do it consistently enough, often enough, fast enough, so it’s a ‘fits and starts’ experience, as is the case with almost everybody. 

In awakening, they say that in addition to sitting there by the river and watching your thoughts go by as if going down the river and being in the now, it’s also recommended that you become fully aware of your body. And in going to that place in meditation, to not simply try to erase thoughts or be above, or outside of thoughts. But to be conscious of and aware of your body, and also to be joyful. I think that’s a highly beneficial add-on to the concept. 

I remember when I was teaching Cait how to make a happy box. As I was describing how to do it, she got this intense look on her face and her brow furrowed. I put my finger on her brow to relax it, and said, no, this is a happy box. This is a happy exercise. We don’t bring that furrowed brow to the happy box. And it’s the same with meditation. Meditation is a happy box. It’s a place to go and be happy. Or, at the very least, be serene. It’s a shift in consciousness of “I’m not going to work at meditating. I’m going to experience being joyful” or whatever positive language that you want to put on it. 

For me, Meditation has always been a respite, something I always look forward to. I’ve never felt that “Oh my God I have to meditate.” It’s always been a place of refuge and I want people to experience it like that, of I can’t wait until I get to meditate. 

Some of it is removing incorrect expectations of how to do it and what you think the results are going to be, or what meditation is. Where people create that struggle that shouldn’t be part of it. 

I have found over the years that when people talk about exercise, it’s something similar. People who try to help people exercise make that same point, it shouldn’t be work. So figure out a program for yourself where whatever it is you do, you want to do it. Because to do it just because you feel like you must is not a good idea. 

The stick can’t work long term, it has to be the carrot. That’s the whole thing with the concept of letting something go. It’s not about suffering, it’s that you’ve moved past that stage. You don’t need it or want it anymore. 

When people try to force something, it has to boomerang and backfire because it’s not about suffering. But the Christian part of the western mind is so instilled with suffering. It’s like, oh I must be doing this right. I’m suffering. 

Yeah, and that’s a part of the Buddhism thing too that needs explanation and Awakening the Buddha Within, he does a very nice job of that. ‘Let me first explain to you what suffering means in the Buddhist context. It’s not what you think it is. Life is a challenge. And it’s a challenge that you want to just be aware of.’ 

Part of why you want to meditate is because it’ll help you through the challenges. Life is a roller coaster ride. It’s full of ups and downs and surprises that don’t feel good. And let’s accept that. Unfortunately, that explanation has gotten suffering attached to it, and it’s not suffering. 

The thing that happens with that is people get personally attached to that. I am personally suffering. This is personally being done to me, rather than this is just happening. It’s raining and I happen to be in the rain and somebody else on the other side of the world happens to be in the sun. Or I happen to be in the night and somebody else on the other side of the world happens to be in the day. We take that as a personal affront rather than it all just is. That’s why when people say, “why me,” my response is why you for any of it? Not why you just for the bad stuff? Why you for the good stuff? Why you for the nothing stuff? Why you, for any of it? Why do we only ask that question when there’s suffering attached to it? 

Yeah, I was thinking about a book of old sayings that need to be debunked. I loved the title of it, which was Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Sayings I Love to Hate. Because when you hear, especially people who are religious, say everything happens for a reason, I want to scream and say yeah, and sometimes those reasons are not good. Or are inscrutable or whatever, but they’re not because there’s some grand plan. 

It’s part of human nature to want to have life have meaning. And for it to have meaning, there must be reasons why things happen. That’s the only way people can figure out the meaning. 

When you get into meditation and you realize when you’re connected to the All That Is, it just is, we understand the personal meaning we want to attach to it is an illusion. 

Yeah, I think that’s a major mind-blower. 

For me it’s comforting, but for many people, it’s instantaneously depressing. I’m a mosquito, I’m a gnat. I have no consequences and no meaning. I am a pimple on the backside of eternity. That’s basically it. 

But when you experience the now in the All That Is, there’s pure joy in that. You can’t experience that joy in a physical, limited human mind. So the only salvation is to experience awakening to the All That Is, and then there’s pure joy. That’s all there is. 

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