Joseph Goldstein has said, “For the purpose of meditation, nothing is particularly worth thinking about.” This means thoughts can come and go as they wish, but we don’t need to become involved with them. (Joseph also says, “it’s simple, but it’s not easy.”)
Bhante Gunaratana lists five ways to work with mental states, based on the instructions in the discourse on Removal of Distracting Thoughts. Josh Korda of Dharma Punx NYC wrote an adapted translation, which I find easy to read and understand.
I found a blog post that summarizes these five as:
- Replace it
- Reflect on the disadvantages of the unskillful thought
- Reject (or ignore) the thought
- Remove the source of the thought
- Restrain the thought
To elucidate on each of these and to list the simile used for each:
- Replace it – Cultivate a skillful thought to take the place of the unskillful thought.
- Like when a carpenter uses one peg to knock out another peg that is stuck.
- Reflect on the disadvantages of the unskillful thought – Notice how the unskillful though causes agitation and stress in the present, and suffering in the long term.
- Just as when someone who likes to wear jewelry would be put off if a rotting snake carcass was offered for wearing as a necklace.
- Reject the thought – Acknowledge such thoughts while disregarding their content.
- When we see someone disagreeable we acknowledge them, then look somewhere else.
- Remove the source of the thought – Focus on alleviating the physical stresses hidden beneath the thoughts.
- Someone hurrying about in a frantic, busy state, might finally think “Why don’t I slow down? Maybe even take a seat, even lie down for awhile?”
- Restrain the thought – If all else fails, one should clench and constrain the unskillful obsessions with willpower.
What techniques of working with sticky thoughts have you tried? Feel free to share a comment.
With best wishes,