A Few Words on Allowing Thoughts in Meditation
by Dan Nussbaum
Experience has shown me that awareness of thinking in meditation allows the anguish of difficult thoughts and feelings to lessen. It’s possible to receive thoughts with interest. Even raging thoughts. Even shaming ones. That’s crucial. The quality of interest. The opposite, to turn attention away from thoughts as a strategy, literally enacts aversion (the Latin root means to turn away). How can aversive tendencies subside by being aversive towards them? Instead we might become curious about how we experience aversion and the myriad states of mind that come with having a mind.
By looking back at where our minds go in sittings, our relationship with thinking can become calmer, more honest. We no longer have to police our thinking moment by moment. If the mind doesn’t require managing then in meditation we’re free to follow trains of thought and even get lost in them. When meditation includes periods of recollecting afterwards, stories, beliefs and views emerge. Over time, the parts they play in our lives can be investigated and understood. You could say that getting caught up in thinking is what leads to not getting caught up in thinking.
Not everyone who meditates can do this practice or will want to. Nor should they. But those drawn to it get the chance to know in a deep way how worry, for example, arises in our lives and keeps returning along with a familiar company of other difficult mind states. When we question the habit of seeing thoughts as the problem – as if the mind were like a dripping faucet that needs to be fixed – we can open to the world of our experience with all its pain and bright amazement.