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Tools for awakened thinking

How to focus the mind more effectively in short periods of intentional thinking

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A big and common misunderstanding of mindfulness teachings is that one should try to avoid any mind-activity all together.


While it is true that many of us would feel a lot clearer, happier and less drained by thinking less, it would be counter-productive to make thoughts into something evil to be avoided all together.


The truth is that thoughts have tremendous power, and the direction in which they are channeled will be the cause of many positive - or negative effects in our lives, and the lives of those around us.


Let's look at it practically here and answer the following question that I got asked in a 1:1 coaching the other day: 'How can I engage with my thinking to achieve my goals, without losing my mindfulness and peace?'


The mind, thoughts, and importance of silence.


First it's important to understand that the mind will constantly produce thoughts, whether we like it to or not, and that it will most likely continue to do so until our very last breath - and that there is nothing wrong with that if we remain present.


We do have a problem however if the mind is so clouded with thinking, that we have lost all awareness and are completely identified with each and every thought.


Here, the first orientation to achieve awakened thinking is to slow down and regain awareness through whichever means - by taking some deep breaths, going to nature, moving the body, or meditating.


"Do you have the patience to wait, until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving, until the right action arises by itself?" - Lao Tzu


About thoughtlessness


So while avoiding thoughts is not the point, to touch a few moments of thoughtlessness can be something very powerful, and even something to strive for if we never experienced this, as it can give us deep insight into the true nature of consciousness and our self.


There are practices that can help facilitate a state of thoughtlessness, for a few seconds, even minutes at once, like yogic breath retention (kumbhaka), and it can also happen completely spontaneously, during a sunset, a near-death experience, meditation or during lovemaking


This state is also known as samadhi or satori, a state of total absorption. It can be helpful, but is not necessary - don't make it your highest ideal or orientation, as to make it that would only lead you astray.


Make awareness your highest ideal


If we want to learn how to think with focus (and overall just be more happy and free), the point of our daily practice should not be to stay in samadhi or satori all the time, as this would be highly dysfunctional in a worldly life.


Our daily, moment to moment practice should be to abide in presence; to be aware at all times in a state of witnessing consciousness.


In this state, one has the ability to witness mind-fluctuations, without reacting to them, believing them, or being identified with them.


This is tremendously powerful, as one who has this kind of self-control, can use this ability to overcome old conditioning and habits, and embody completely new ways of being, feeling - and manifesting.


Now, the world is yours.


Self-inquiry


Next to practices that help us to stabilize into the seat of witnessing consciousness, and stay beyond thought, there are also practices that can help us to work within the realm of thought - also known as self-inquiry (not to confuse with non-dual self-inquiry).


Self-inquiry in this sense is an investigation into each thought, questioning it's accuracy and truthfulness on the level of relativity.


How to practice self-inquiry


The process of self-inquiry goes like this: one formulates a thought into a clear statement, and then proceeds to ask questions about this statement, as for example:


- 'Can I know this thought to be absolutely true?

- What deeper, subconscious belief or assumption could this thought be rooted in?'

- 'If I can't accept it, can I change it, and if I can't change it, can I accept it?

- 'Am I considering well enough the state of my current limitations and abilities, when trying to address what I am trying to address?'

- 'What would life be like without this thought?'


Create intentional time-blocks for thinking


Another practice we can do is to create intentional time blocks for thinking, perhaps aided by journaling, similar as to how we would set a timer for meditation.


For the largest part of the day, we do not need to think, or be overly rational, and we can just enjoy and experience life.


But within these time blocks, say 10-30 minutes - you put all your attention and energy into your thinking in a controlled and focussed way.


Where you could normally ponder over something for days, weeks or months, without any worthwhile outcome, here you aim to achieve clarity, focus, and perhaps even conclusions and decisions in a dedicated time-frame.


Here are four guidelines for such a time-block:

  1. First slow down the mind, meditate, be completely silent, to reclaim clarity.

  2. Choose a period of time and commit to it

  3. Do not allow the mind to think about anything else but the chosen thought/subject/dilemma/confusion/decision

  4. Start with a clear question, statement, and/or goal for what you like to achieve (for example a clear decision, tangible action step, and so on). Sometimes choosing poorly is better than not choosing at all.


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