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Sandra Pawula

How to Get Rid of Thoughts and Emotions in Meditation

Do you ever long for dead silence in your mind?  Do you think this is what meditation really is?

Basic meditation is sometimes called “calm abiding”, “peacefully remaining” or “tranquility meditation.”  

Sounds good, right?  Given the 15,000 to 50,000 thoughts popping about in your brain on any given day, a moment of quiet seems like outright bliss.  I bet you’re wondering, “Where can I sign up?”

Many novice meditators believe that meditation means putting an end to thoughts and emotions.  Well, at least the bothersome ones.  I’ll tell you a little secret.  Even experienced meditators may be hoping for the same isle of peace.

Is it devilish of me to burst the bubble?

The truth is it’s not quite like that.  Thoughts and emotions aren’t going to permanently cease.  But don't worry, you can still find a bit of peace.

The Iron Rod Technique

The great meditation master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche once said,

“If your training is for the purpose of bringing thinking and experience to a halt, you must have somebody knock you out.”

That’s right.  He called it the “iron rod technique”.  That will work perfectly if you want to reach the “stupid state of complete oblivion.”

Likewise, the contemporary meditation teacher, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche shares an illuminating perspective on the reality of thoughts and emotions in meditation.  He says,

“Thoughts and emotions will always arise.  The purpose of practice is not to get rid of them.  We can no more put a stop to thoughts and emotions than we can put a stop to the worldly circumstances that seemingly turn for or against us.  We can, however, choose to welcome and work with them.  On one level, they are nothing but sensations.  When we don’t solidify or judge them as good, bad, right or wrong, favorable or unfavorable, we can utilize them to progress on the path.”

He goes on to share this sage advice, especially for experienced meditators:

“Sometimes practitioners resent disturbing thoughts and emotions or feel they should be exempt from them.  Those who have been practicing for many years may wonder, ‘Why after all this time do I still experience so much mental turmoil? Why is my mind not at peace?’  The question reflects a mistaken view of the purpose of practice.  No matter how advanced we may be in practice or realization, mind’s natural activity does not cease.  It’s an expression of mind’s nature, which is pregnant with possibilities.  Instead of resenting mind’s vitality, we can use it to deepen and enrich our practice.”

What About Peacefully Remaining?

So what’s all this about calm abiding and peacefully remaining?

Here's the deal, the peace of meditation doesn’t come about from eradicating all risings in the mind and remaining in a static state of no thoughts.  You might experience the absence of thoughts from time-to-time in meditation, but it's not a permanent state.  And it's not the goal of meditation.

The way we work with thoughts and emotions is to observe them arise and dissolve without adding on afterthoughts.  In basic meditation, we use an object like the breath or an image to facilitate the process. 

When, through regular meditation practice, we recognize the impermanent and insubstantial nature of thoughts and emotions, they no longer lure the mind into drama or disturb it in the same old ways.  A greater sense of space, relaxation, and yes, even peace, gradually dawns.  There’s no need to struggle against thoughts or emotions because, when we practice like this, gradually they settle on their own. 

Thoughts and emotions will never cease altogether, but, through regular meditation practice, they will gradually lessen as the source of suffering in your life. 

Unless you prefer the swift iron rod technique, of course.

Reference:  It’s Up to You:  The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path by Dzigar Kongtrul

Image:  Public Domain Pictures