The word discursive is defined as: covering a wide field of subjects; rambling; passing from one topic to another, usually in an unmethodical way; digressive. Discursive thought is that free flow thought that includes daydreams and fantasies, and often becomes the most prevalent state of mind for many people. It never stops chattering. It keeps people awake at night, and even when the body is at rest, doesn't seem to know how to rest itself.
Intentional thought is that thought which we are automatically very conscious of because we intend it to happen for a purpose. It is the thoughts we use for a specific purpose such as problem solving, learning, or communicating. It is thought that has a purpose. This level of thought is necessary in order to function in the world.
The third state, often the most elusive for many people, is a state where thought subsides, the mind stops its words and pictures, and falls back into a quiet peaceful state of pure awareness. In pure awareness there is only awareness of the five senses, and all thought formation around those sensations are subsided. You can be aware of all of the senses simultaneously or of any one individually, depending upon where you place your awareness. You merely experience the sense without the need to label, or identify what you are sensing. You see without having to name what you see, you hear without having to figure out what you are hearing. There is only awareness. This is how you experienced the world as a small child. Anyone witnessing a breathtaking landscape or sunset also experiences this state, even if only momentarily, and may not have even realized that they had momentarily subsided thought in order to take in the view.
The first two states are the most prevalent states for the untrained, unaware mind. For many, the third state may even seem to be an impossibility. It is quite easy for the mind to conclude that something it has never accomplished is impossible. If one has never lifted weights or exercised before, the idea of lifting 150 lb barbell over the head could easily seem impossible, especially when a first attempt at doing so would likely fail. But if one starts out slow, with an amount of weight that one can lift over the head, and gradually increase the weight, 150 lbs is no longer impossible. Learning to reach a state of pure awareness is no different, it takes training and practice.
The discursive state of mind is the source and cause of many of todays common problems. Allowing the mind to run free and unsupervised is as wise as allowing a child to play unsupervised in a construction site. It can get itself into all sorts of trouble, from irrational fears to anxieties, from mild delusions to paranoia. It can convince itself that it knows what others are thinking and saying behind our back, it can view past events from a perspective that is missing many facts, yet confidently draws conclusions, and it can even invent a future, or re-invent a past through daydreaming. Most discursive thoughts are outside of reality and usually have a time component, past or future to them, and always have a "me" or "I" component. Because they exists "in our mind", we assume ownership of them and convince ourselves these thoughts must be valid. We allow them to operate unsupervised without ever questioning their validity. For some people, the concept of even having the ability to question ones own thoughts seems foreign.
Intentional thoughts are like a tool, they should only to be used when needed. When we are finished using a hammer, we don't walk around hitting and hammering everything in sight, yet we allow our mind to operate in this way. Thought, when used for an intended purpose is a very valuable and powerful tool. It is those qualities that make thoughts so alluring we can't ever seem to put them down. Unfortunately, when we become accustomed to allowing the mind to have free run, that free run becomes such a predominant state that it can affect our ability to think and reason clearly when needed. Discursive thought patterns colour or prejudice our thought patterns.
With awareness of our thought patterns, as practiced through meditation, we can learn to observe what thoughts are necessary, which ones are a waste of time and energy, and which ones are useful. This awareness of discursive thought patterns opens up the practice to catch yourself whenever you find yourself wandering off into discursive thought. At first this will be difficult, because when lost in thought, we don't really know we are lost. It is like driving a car and suddenly realizing that you have been daydreaming for the last 5 blocks and aren't sure if you stopped at the last intersection. With practice you learn to catch yourself as the mind begins to wander, and pull yourself back, much like one does in breath meditation. Be like a cat at the mouse hole waiting to pounce the instant the mouse appears.
With continued practice, constantly catching the mind anytime it wanders, space or gaps between thoughts will start to open up. As the practice continues these gaps get wider and wider, and eventually become sustainable. This is the third state of mind in which there is only Pure Awareness, and it is this state that is the goal of the meditator.
|Michael L. Fournier|