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Tahlia Newland

Free of After Thought

Sogyal Rinpoche often quotes this meditation instruction of his teacher, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro: Remain free of after-thought. This is an instruction that I find very helpful, and I use it as a kind of slogan to help me do it. It works like this.


Are you at the mercy of your thoughts? Do they rush through your brain every moment of the day, driving you insane with their constant chatter? Do you feel as if you never get any rest from them? Do the same thoughts go round and round in your head as you mull over situations to which there are no solutions? If you answer yes to any of these questions then you may wonder how you could ever find inner peace.

Perhaps you'd like to stop those thoughts completely, but the more you try to do that, the more they seem to come. The truth here is that, just as you can't have tea without leaves, you can't have a mind without thoughts. Thoughts are a natural expression of the energy of our minds, we can't stop them coming, and to try to stop them is counterproductive, but we can learn how to work with our thoughts so they don't drive us crazy.

The trick is to let the thoughts come, see them for what they are ie just thoughts, and let them go. What causes us problems is that instead of simply letting a thought pass through, we think about the thoughts. We make stories about them, we stir them up and they stir us up, and that destroys our chance for inner peace.

The first thought is not a problem, it's the thinking about that thought that sets us off in a spiral of inner noise. We need to learn to be free of after thought.

How do we do that? We practice it in mediation and then in every day life.

So, sit tall, but relaxed and wait for a thought to come. Sometimes just waiting for a thought is enough to send them scurrying, and you find a nice gap with a lively expectant quality to it opens up. That's great, stay in that! But eventually a thought comes and you practice watching it pass, like a leaf falling from a tree, or credits rolling across a TV screen, or a cloud dissolving into the sky. And if you find yourself thinking about a thought, making stories and wandering of somewhere in your mind,  you just say, 'free of after thought' and that reminds you to go back to watching for those thoughts and letting them pass through.

When you are free of after thought, you are present, grounded in the now, and that's a very healthy place to be. As you go about your day, whenever you remember, look at your thoughts. What's happening in your head? Just doing that can be enough to cut through the flow of thoughts and bring you blessed relief. Remember, you are not trying to stop yourself thinking, just stop you being at the mercy of thoughts. As you practice this way, you will find gaps between your thoughts and in those gaps you will find a natural great peace that will allow you to be cool, calm and collected in all situations.