A place for people interested in introspection, self awareness, mindfulness, meditation and training the mind to abide in a state that is free from the constant flow of meaningless chatter, mind theatrics, and discursive thought.

Stopping Thought

Learning to stop thoughts in their tracks can be a very useful tool to have in your arsenal of mindfulness/self awareness techniques. Keep in mind however, that gaining the ability to stop and even hold thoughts at bay for some amount of time is not a complete solution to the long term goals of ending discursive and unnecessary thought processes. In the early stages of this journey, the discursive, monkey mind Ego is strong, so when you push it or try to force it, it will push back. That is to say, that you can likely expect a flurry of activity to follow. 

However, using thought stopping techniques combined with being actively engaged in objectively, and non-judgmentally, paying attention to the thought processes, thought content, mind theatrics, emotional states, etc. by bringing full attention and awareness to them, in the present moment, as they occur, not by reflecting on them afterwards, will prove to be very effective. As one continues the practice of objective non-judgmental thought observation, patterns begin to reveal themselves, along with the consequences that follow, as well as any physical sensations that may appear, such as from the brain releasing fight or flight chemicals into the body. These patterns, when left to spiral out of control, are the various thought based disorders we all seem to inflict upon ourselves to varying degrees, such as stress, anxiety, fears and phobias, depression, anger, or any of the other thought based disorders. Through this continued observation of these patterns and thought loops, those that are no longer serving in ones best interest begin to become very evident.

It is in combination with the recognition of these thought patterns that are no longer serving in either our or societies best interests, that thought stopping techniques are most useful. Halting a thought in its tracks that you have just recognized or identified as part of a self destructive behavior can prevent the situation from escalating any further. It can stop one from saying or doing the wrong thing or doing something harmful. With sufficient practice, it can stop a fit of rage in it's tracks or halt addictive behaviours.

The simplest way of temporarily suspending thought is through taking control of your awareness and using it to control where you place your full attention. This is not as hard as it seems, there are many easy ways to do this. Simply place your full attention and full awareness into one of the five senses. Pick an object in your immediate vicinity, or an imaginary spot on the floor or wall, preferably low to minimize other visual distractions, and stare at it as intently as possible, as though you were expecting something to jump out at you and you don't want to miss it. Place your full attention and awareness into your hearing, without judging or trying to identify or name the sounds, just listening for perhaps the faintest possible sound, or trying to single out just one sound out of the many. Any of the senses will work, the faint odours that surround us that we usually ignore, the physical sensations of sitting, standing, walking, movement, etc. Focusing complete attention on the complexities of the breath is another way, what does it feel like as the air passes through the nostrils, fills the lungs, as the abdomen rises, and as the process reverses to the out breath. This is one of the practical applications of practicing breath based meditation. 

Any time your full awareness and attention are captivated completely, thought halts naturally. This pause in thought can now be used to regroup, and consciously choose not to indulge in or follow that pattern any further. As the mindfulness/self awareness practice advances, and as the stability of sustained concentration increases, it becomes easier to use the mind activity itself as an object of awareness. 

For those engaged in the full path to Enlightenment, (Nirvanna, Buddhahood, Christ Consciousness or any of the other names this misunderstood mental state is referred to as) or more simply the complete freedom from self harming discursive thought patterns, this state can be induced through the development of long term sustainable concentration trained to remain focused on the continuous movements and activity of the mind until all un-neccesary, unwanted, harmful mental activity and illusion has been seen through and by consciously choosing to no longer indulge in them. Just like un-used muscles, these patterns atrophy and start to die off eventually no longer presenting themselves.

For the brave, practicing sustained no thought states for prolonged periods of time, as long as you realize that there may be a burst of thoughts later, also has it's advantages. This helps to build sustainable concentration, which is another tool that has to be sharpened. There is nothing wrong with allowing the thought flow to burst forward afterwards. First, this whole process is about learning to regain control of one's own mind, rather than letting it run wild, so this allows some degree of control by choosing to allow the space for the discursive free flow that may follow. Besides, these free flows occur less and less frequently over time as one continues to break down and stop indulging in thought patterns that no longer serve a higher purpose. As well, it provides a somewhat controlled jumping off point, controlled in that you are now expecting thought flow, and from which you can return to objectively observing your thoughts.

Michael L. Fournier