The Bug In The Jar
Many people go through life nearly oblivious to the constant flow of discursive thoughts running through their heads. They are often just as oblivious to the content of those thoughts, and how those thoughts can create an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and various forms of self inflicted suffering. It has been estimated that the average number of thoughts a person has in a day ranges from 60,000 to 90,000.
Occasionally, one may become aware that their mind never seems to shut off. Often this is observed as one tries to fall asleep at night. This simple observance may actually be a blessing in disguise, a sort of wake up call. Being aware of the excess activity of the mind occurs at a level outside of, rather than from within thought itself. Cultivating that awareness is a critical first step in learning to quiet the mind and free it from excess discursive activity. Meditation is the best place to practice learning to become aware of thought.
As one learns to become aware of thought, the Bug in the Jar method of observing thought can be a very useful technique. Start off the meditation session with a very strong intention to observe and catch yourself when you have drifted into discursive thought. The stronger the intention, the greater the success. As soon as you are aware that you have drifted into thought, capture that thought in a sort of freeze frame, like catching a bug in a jar. Now examine the thought for its content. What purpose does this thought actually have in THIS moment? Is it based on past events or is it a fantasy projection of the future? What feelings, emotions and further thoughts is it leading to? If acted upon, are these thoughts potentially harmful to me or anyone else? Will they lead to any level of REAL happiness for me or anyone else? When you have finished examining the thought, simply let it go, just like the bug in the jar, and wait for the next one to come along and catch it in the same way.
Examining thoughts in this way can be very enlightening. Most of our thoughts are not based in anything that produces happiness, and are often based in flawed egotistical interpretations of how we see the world or would like the world to be. We quickly see that we tend to make our self (Ego) the centre of every one of these thoughts, either as a hero, martyr, victim, or perhaps even a villain. We are always the main character in our own play. We may also notice that paths to potential suffering or hurt for someone, either our self or another can nearly always be found.
The nature of the self is that it wants to be happy. The nature of the ego is that it wants to protect us from every possible form of hurt or discomfort by thinking about ways to deal with what it may perceive as painful or threatening scenarios. The ego has developed itself into to a dominant position of trying to be on duty 24 hours a day, thinking it is protecting one from harm or suffering and thus taking priority over happiness.
When one begins to learn to observe thought in the manner described, the logical part of the mind begins to realize that the discursive thought producing ego is actually causing more unhappiness and harm than it is protecting oneself from. Since happiness is a priority, the mind becomes more complacent in the process of quieting itself and actually becomes a willing partner in quieting the mind.
Quieting the mind is not an impossible task. It just takes some practice and retraining.