Thread: Question about mindfulness: observing trains of thought

  1. #1
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    Question about mindfulness: observing trains of thought

    Hi guys

    In daily life you can get lost in 'trains of thought' all the time... you 'space out' and if someone was to look at you in that state they'd probably see your eyes not focused on anything... staring into space. Basically when you're in that state you're in a trance, caught up completely in your mind with little to no awareness of the outside world... until you snap out of it and return to reality.

    So what I was wondering was, in mindfulness - where the purpose is to observe, stay with, and reflect on feelings rather than cling to them - is it possible to observe such a trance from within it... not at the beginning or the end but in the middle? I can understand being mindful at the beginning of a train of thought... when you've just encountered the trigger or seed for it and are choosing at that point not to cling to it and therefore not to let it snowball into a trance. And I can understand being mindful of its end... the point where you snap out of it and if you're lucky you can hold on to some of the feelings that were there at the end... kind of similar to how you can remember the last moments of a dream but nothing else.

    But I can't imagine being mindful of the middle in such a way that you could observe it without interrupting it... without causing you to snap out of it. I've always wanted to understand what goes on in a trance but have found it nigh on impossible to catch it in the act and still have all your objective faculties to analyse it. Catching the end or the beginning doesn't really count because neither case has the emotions in full swing. The closest I've got was managing to observe colour fading out at the end of one, so that proved to me that within a trance you can experience a full vivid experience of colour quite separate from your visual senses. In another case I managed to hold a strange and complex feeling in place for several seconds by holding its triggers in place... keeping the ideas in mind that gave rise to it. But in terms of just objectively watching a hypnotic trance take its course from start, through middle, to natural end I don't know if it's possible? Is it a skill that develops with increased experience of mindfulness? Or is it not the aim in Buddhism to observe trains or thought but instead just to stop them becoming trains of thought... ie not cling to them and nip them in the bud as it were?

  2. #2
    Hi emjay,

    I think you might find it helpful to read what the Buddha had to say about mindfulness in sutta MN10

    https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

    and you can also find out more about the practice of mindfulness in this booklet by Ajahn Sumedho:

    http://www.amaravati.org/dhamma-book...the-deathless/

    Hope that helps.



  3. #3
    Additionally there's this 4 minute video about mindfulness from Ajahn Jayasaro's "Buddhist Meditation" series .







  4. #4
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    Thanks Aloka, that's made it a lot more clear what meditation and mindfulness actually are, and what their purpose is in the context of Buddhism.

    As the monk in the video says, mindfulness means not forgetting/bearing in mind rather than just awareness. So in reference to the question in the OP it's clear that being mindful and being lost in thought are a contradiction in terms... being mindful relies on not getting lost in thought. So mindfulness is like a reference point from which you observe, contemplate, or compare something. And your first link, the Discourse On Mindfulness Meditation makes it clear that that's what all of this is about... being mindfully aware of some facet you need to understand as a reference point from which you observe and contemplate experience in relation to. But if you lose hold of that reference point... lose concentration... then of course you'll still have 'awareness' - because you're alive and experiencing something - but it will be awareness that has lost its purpose and is now just lost in unrelated thought the same as it always is.

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