Changing our relationship to our thoughts

 

It’s very important for me to “not think.” I do enough thinking. You can just “be.”

Ringo Starr in Parade Magazine

I am surprised a long-time mediator talks about it this way. If course, he can be misquoted and it may be taken out of context, and he may have more to say about it if asked.

Basic meditation and mindfulness is not about not thinking or getting rid of thoughts, at least not as we conventionally understand it.

In one sense, it’s about noticing thoughts and anything else here, anything happening in our sense fields. Notice and allow. (And to be fair to Ringo Starr, that may be just what he means which means the wording in the interview is misleading.)

In another sense, it’s about thoughts – usually gradually and over time – losing their charge. When they have a charge, they seem true, important, and something we need to pay attention to (i.e. go into as if they are true and keep spinning and elaborating the story). As they lose the charge, it’s easier to notice they are thoughts – perhaps with a charge — passing through. We don’t need to pay much attention to them or elaborate or act on them unless they inform us about something practical we need to take care of.

This tends to happen over time with regular mindfulness practice. And it can be greatly helped and speeded up through inquiry, for instance, traditional Buddhist inquiry, its modern variety Living Inquiries, or even The Work of Byron Katie or some forms of cognitive therapy.

So basic meditation is about changing our relationship to our thoughts and not getting rid of them. As someone said, the mind creates thoughts just like a flower creates smells. It’s the natural function of the mind, and essential for our survival and functioning in the world.

Over time, we may find we appreciate our thoughts as we appreciate the smell of flowers. We may even find we appreciate the apparently stressful ones, at least sometimes and perhaps more often.

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