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So I have read and know something about awareness and doing regular tasks with attention and focus. But recently there has been chaos with my job and cause for consternation. Thoughts keep arising from my mind and there has been anxiety and that is overwhelming. I don't really resist them as they are thoughts and as such I know that is the nature of the mind. I try to accept it. But I then feel weak and give way to appease those thoughts and then start acting or reacting to them.

Could somebody's experience with Buddhism and meditation here help out with the nature of those overwhelming thoughts? It is possible there is no other way apart from meditation and accepting them calmly. But it gets too strong and then "resisting" becomes a natural tendency and I lose composure.

Also the problems tend to keep repeating themselves from my mind because they are long standing problems albeit impermanent. Makes me feel that that is the nature of problems of this worldly life anyway and then I even feel caged.

  • You have the same issues as everyone else. But you are choosing to work on your reactions. This in itself is a victory. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:43
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If you have thoughts that are repeating in a loop, most likely you are focusing on them or obsessing over them, intentionally or unintentionally, rather than "not resisting" them.

My understanding of not resisting thoughts is this. If you are practising mindfulness on the breath, then when any thoughts appear, just take note of the fact that the thought appeared, then go back to the breath. This way, you are neither focusing on nor suppressing those thoughts. You are instead, focusing on the breath. As soon as you realize that you left the breath to think of something else, your focus returns to the breath.

If someone tells you "don't think about monkeys", what would appear in your mind when you focus on that? Monkeys. The best way to not think of monkeys is to focus on something else. In this case, we are focusing on the breath and eventually, the mind will stick to the breath and the repetitive thoughts would rarely or never arise.

If you face problems, then you may want to solve them or mitigate their effects, if that's possible. Repetitively thinking about the problem does not actually solve the problem. Instead, it results in depression. Solving a problem and obsessing over a problem are two very separate things.

In the solution process, you may list out actions to take, execute those actions at the appropriate times, then review the outcome of those actions at the appropriate times. In between, while waiting for the "appropriate times" to come, if the repetitive thoughts return, then mindfulness meditation would be helpful to bring peace of mind.

Thanissaro Bhikku instructs in his essay:

If your mind wanders off, gently bring it right back. If it wanders off ten times, a hundred times, bring it back ten times, a hundred times. Don't give in. This quality is called ardency. In other words, as soon as you realize that the mind has slipped away, you bring it right back. You don't spend time aimlessly sniffing at the flowers, looking at the sky, or listening to the birds. You've got work to do: work in learning how to breathe comfortably, how to let the mind settle down in a good space here in the present moment.

This Scientific American article tells us the benefits of mindfulness for depression and anxiety:

As a remedy for depression and anxiety, mindfulness meditation may help patients let go of negative thoughts instead of obsessing over them. Training people to experience the present, rather than reviewing the past or contemplating the future, may help keep the mind out of a depressive or anxious loop.

Basic Breath Meditation Instructions and A Guided Meditation are two essays by Thanissaro Bhikku that instructs one into breath-based mindfulness. If the Five Hindrances disturb you, then there are antidotes mentioned in this essay by Ajahn Brahmavamso. To make mindfulness easier, Thanissaro Bhikku suggests using the "Buddho" word in the second essay. You might find that very helpful.

  • Great answer +1. I especially like the section on "the solution process". Thank you. – Lanka Apr 30 '15 at 13:22
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A few excerpts from suttas concerning this (I recommend their full reading):

[...] As I abided thus, diligent, ardent and resolute, a thought of [sensual desire, ill will, cruelty] arose in me. I understood thus: 'This thought of [sensual desire, ill will, cruelty] arose in me. This leads to my own affliction, to others affliction, and to the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nibbāna'. When I considered: 'This leads to my own affliction', it subsided in me; When I considered: 'This leads to others affliction', it subsided in me; When I considered: 'This leads to the affliction of both', it subsided in me; When I considered: 'This obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nibbāna', it subsided in me. Whenever a thought of [sensual desire, ill will, cruelty] arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.

Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. [...]

But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration. So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So my mind should not be strained.

-- Dvedhāvitakka Sutta [Bodhi trans.], MN 19

and:

[...] If, while he is examining the danger in those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, with delusion, then he should try to forget those thoughts and should not give attention to them. When he tries to forget those thoughts and does not give attention to them, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. [...]

If, while he is trying to forget those thoughts and is not giving attention to them, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate and with delusion, then he should give attention to stilling the thought-formation(*) of those thoughts. [...]

If while he is giving attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he should beat down, constrain and crush mind with mind(**) (***).

-- Vitakkasanthāna Sutta, [Bodhi Trans.] MN 20

(*) "relaxing of thought-fabrication", per Thanissaro Bhikku

(**) "crush his mind with his awarenes", per Thanissaro Bhikku

(***) "crush unwholesome states of mind with wholesome states of mind", per Majjhima Nikāya Atthakathā

  • As simple as that. If it took years to get in to a bad thought-habit, how much practice does it take to reverse it? If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But sometimes realize that force of will can add to the energy behind the obsessions. Better to see the pointlessness of them if that happens. Ego will fight for its life, but if you starve it, the battle can be won. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:38
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I really liked the way Shinzen Young recommended noting thoughts as just "image" (visual thinking) or "talk" (verbal or auditory thinking). You fully acknowledge that the thought is there, but in a way that turns you squarely away from the story/content of the thought.

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Meditation is a practice that lends awareness to thought. Illuminates it in such a way that we realize that we have an awareness larger than thought... thought is not our identity and limit of reality.

This gives us a larger space in which to live and create. Tightening around the thought, avoiding the thought, clinging to the thought, wishing to have no thought so we are more comfortable... these are all "selfing"

Let the thought go, let it come... freely. Say hello and give it a hug, kiss it goodbye it is just one thought. Another will come. Welcome it also. Have some tea with it. Ask it some questions. Why have you come? What do I need to know to help you? Why do I need you to be other than you are? This is nonresistance.

The thought comes from a place that fears an outcome or desires one is trapped by karma. A belief that "Okayness" is contingent. Freedom is free from karma, not trapped by the outcome or contingency.

Be aware that each moment arises independently. That there is no self. That possibilities exist to resolve the issue effortlessly and they will be revealed as the greater presence with our being takes hold more and more.

  • Hi and welcome to Buddhism.SE. If possible, some citations would be useful to support your words - rather than being an advice forum, we're trying to aim for expert answer backed by authority of some sort. – yuttadhammo May 1 '15 at 13:25

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