Calming Thoughts & Discomfort in Meditation

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, July 15, 2011

Singapore -- Besides the feeling of discomfort, the arising of thoughts is one of the biggest obstacle in our effort to stay concentrated in our mediation. Our mind will not do it unless we have been practicing it for some time, possibly for some years. Thoughts will always arise in our meditation and the way to work with it is to label it quickly as it arises, like calling it ‘thinking’ or ‘remembering’ or nonsense’.

The minute we give our thought a label, we are stepping back to look at it. Unless we do that, we become the thinker and become totally distracted, we should not have to think of anything when meditating.

Life is a continuous process and does not require us to think about it all the time as it arises and ceases every single moment. As for our thought process, when it arises it should not matter what label we tack on to it, any label used during meditation means the thought needs to be dropped.

With the habit of applying label in meditation, we will be able to label thoughts in our daily living as wholesome, profitable, skilful or otherwise. When we know thoughts that are unwholesome or unskillful we can then let go of it. We can than learn to think what we want to think and when one learn to do that, one never need to be unhappy again.

At the same time, one can also see the power of mindfulness and what it can do to change our lives for the better. The one way for the purification of self, for the destruction of un-satisfactoriness, for entering the noble path, for the realization of freedom from all suffering – is Mindfulness. When we have a thousand thoughts, we should give it a thousand labels. That is the way to real mindfulness.

Labeling of our thoughts is the foundation of mindfulness in action that leads the way to liberation when we actually practice it.

Feeling of discomfort will arise when we try to keep the body still for some time. Our body does not like to be kept still for any length of time as it wants to move to alleviate its discomfort. During meditation this thing happens and the usual immediate reaction is for one to move to remove this discomfort and any pain that arises. We should try to become aware of how this pain and discomfort come about first. We should realize that there is contact, there is feeling and with it come reaction. It is also this same reaction to our feeling that made us go round and round in the cycle of birth and death.

We can classify feeling into three forms - pleasant, neutral and unpleasant. During meditation, when we feel pain, we want to get away from it. This is the same in our daily life, we try to run away, push it away, or change the outer cause of any unpleasant feeling we come across. We would usually do anything to get rid of discomfort, but the only way to get rid of it is to get rid of our craving for comfort first.

Our body does not have suffering, it is suffering in itself and it is only when we realized that it is so, than can we begin to fathom the reality of human suffering. This body can’t sit or lie still without becoming uncomfortable. We should begin to see the impermanence and un-satisfactoriness that is inherent in the human body.

We should also learn the fact that feeling too arises without our invitation and if feeling of pain or discomfort arises during our meditation, we should only move gently after we have examining why we are doing so. To grit our teeth and try to sit still will only create a dislike for the whole situation, it is also a reaction of the wrong kind to move spontaneously when we feel pain or discomfort.

One is the greed for comfort and the other is an aversion to discomfort. They are
the two sides of the same coin. The only thing that made any sense is the insight into oneself and one’s own reactions which will then bring about results. When our feelings and thoughts arise, watch them as being totally impermanent. Anyway, they arise and cease, come and go at will, so why should we call them as ours?

Impermanence, un-satisfactoriness, non-self are the three marks in all that exists. Unless we are able to identify these characteristics within ourselves, we will never going to know what the Buddha is trying to teach us. Meditation is the way to find out the truth about it. The rest are just words, tools and means that point the way to it. It is action that is required.