I am a mathematician, and I often find myself obsessing over the problems that I'm trying to solve.

While I have made incredible progress over the last 6 months with my practice. I find myself suffering, sometimes for a few days in a row, because of my obsessive thinking towards the problem. It's as if my entire consciousness became the problem and that I could not find any relief until it was fixed.

I enjoy getting consumed by what I do, I also know that being consumed AND remaining grounded is much more powerful. Any tip? / similar experiences?

2 Answers 2


Maybe my job is easier than yours, i.e. a software developer.

The traditional psychology of software development includes the psychology of "flow".

One of the doctrines of that psychology is that flow can happen when a job is neither too easy (which isn't interesting or demanding, doesn't engage or satisfy), nor too difficult (if it's too difficult it promotes anxiety, regret, hopelessness, and desire to quit etc.).

So there's a happy medium: when it's neither too hard nor too easy.

I read once that they used functional MRI to measure of brains in "flow" state and discovered that brains in that state are less active than usual, or more specifically have fewer areas which are active. I suppose that (limited number of active areas) is associated with concentrating on one task, with a lack of afflictive emotions, etc.

What does this have to do with Buddhism?

  1. I think one comment to make is that the flow state is pleasurable. For example you say "I could not find any relief until it was fixed" which implies that you feel relief; and you said, "I also know that being consumed is powerful", where I suppose that "powerful" is pleasurable in a Nietzschean sense. So maybe beware that it (what you're doing) is something of a pleasure-feedback loop, like any other (sugar, alcohol, you know, sex, social status, whatever your weaknesses are). Your "obsessive thinking" might be a result of subconscious desire or craving "I want to carry on thinking like this, to feel relief and power again". The fact that Mathematics seems relatively harmless activity doesn't confer immunity: see e.g. Saptha's comment here, about sukha giving rise to dukkha and the consequence of our indulgence in pleasure.

  2. A phenomenon from Buddhist practice which might perhaps be analogous are Jhāna concentration states. I think that doctrine says that practicitioners sometimes mistakenly take these states as an end instead of a means. They should be a means (to improve insight) but might be taken as an end in themselves (because of their (temporary) relief from suffering).

  3. You wrote "I have made incredible progress over the last 6 months with my practice" though I don't know what your practice is. In any case you might try some explicitly Buddhist practice as well as (or, at least sometimes, instead of) Mathematical pursuit.

Also, in my experience and I think in everyone's, often a problem is solved in routine concentration; and sometimes that routine fails and is counterproductive, because you don't see the problem in a proper context, e.g. "you don't see the forest for the trees". So even if your only motive were to solve the mathematical problem, you might find it beneficial to let "obsessive" thinking subside when it is failing.


This is something I face too. I work in the IT industry building automation systems.

This is my own opinion on the matter. I think most people, including me bias toward a belief that being consumed or obsessed by something (some call it passion) gives great outcomes. This is correct. However; I believe far more intelligent people exist who are able to achieve much greater results while remaining detached. How this can be achieved is a tricky subject and might be out of scope of this forum.

For example, the Buddha himself knows all sciences that should be known. Ven. Sariputta was highly intelligent. All of them practiced detachment and still remained sharp and more intelligent.

So, maybe practicing dhamma might help us.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .