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Everly Purcel's picture

I enjoyed this talk very much. It makes a lot of sense. It also reminds me of a Buddhist story which I found online but have not yet found again so I hope I do not butcher it too badly.

The story is about a young boy who went to a monastery to become a monk. The master instructed him to go up the mountain and meditate all day. During his meditation, he was not to allow any thoughts. The boy went up the mountain and all day long he tried to meditate without allowing any thoughts to come to him. He never had so many thoughts and he could not contain them or banish them or control them in any way. By the end of the day he was exhausted and he knew he could not become a monk. He returned to the monaster and went to the Master and with great sadness, related his experience. The Master nodded and told him that he should go up the mountain again the next day. He should spend the day meditating. This time, however, he should allow all his thoughts to come to him. The boy again went up the mountain and sat for his meditation. All day long he tried to think of something, anything. Not a single thought would come to him. At the end of the day he was exhausted and discouraged. He knew for sure that he could never become a monk. He returned to the monastery and related his experience to the Master and apologized that he would never be able to be a monk. The Master smiled at him and told him that he had completed his first lesson and he could now begin his training.

jespersr's picture

Another view from Buddha-Bing! http://youtu.be/W7l8VAe9fq8

cwilkie999's picture

There is some concern with Jason's method in proving that it is or isn't meditation; maybe it's just problem solving, maybe it's "let's just quit trying meditation, it's too hard", maybe its the easy way out, maybe it's just thinking what you want to think instead of bearing down hard and getting into "real" meditation. Well, it is all those things, and whatever else comes up while one is sitting still and breathing. So what? What is it that more "serious" meditators are trying to do? Who is authorized to define meditation? Since the beginning of time how many groups, sects and individuals have defined meditation in different ways? Personally, I have been meditating for a long time and I am going to go where my own insights lead me. I don't know why that should bother anyone else, but it does.

jamesehoey's picture

Hello all,

I started to read Jason's book a few weeks ago. Its been great using this method as I could be very hard on myself during sits, and this method really allowed me to see that. One thing I found which was really helpful for me, was reading some of his students recollection post meditation, so I thought it might be helpful for others if I share mine. If you do find this helpful let me know I can post a few more.

"I have been very excited about this new method of meditation because with it I could reach such a pleasurable stillness which I hadn't had sitting in quite a while and can see me thoughts clearly and observe them easily which is something I had been struggling with for a quite a while. I started to suppress this excitement as I thought it may be harmful if I develop expectations. I started of having a wanting to get away or jump out of my skin.
I tried to become gentle with it, and I remembered that I didn't have to do anything about it.
Before this I was having a struggle constantly trying to find a way to deal with this restlessness.
My Mind started to become peaceful, I started to see that my mind was focusing, a lot on “how should I do this” or “Which way should I do this” as if it were struggling to find the right way of doing this practice, which I was able to just watch instead of buying into it.
I also would notice my mind once a thought was thunk aggressively saying “you shouldn’t think that “ In a way saying you shouldn't be thinking, which was followed by an urge to go back to the breathe, which I would let pass without following its instruction. My mind would become more peaceful each time a did this
I started to gently notice the thought “hows the best way to deal with this” thoughts and was then able to follow them to the end and simply let them go.
My Mind became very peaceful and relaxed. It became easy to watch my breath.
I started to rest my attention in the front of my mind in between my eyebrows which seemed to be very bright. This was a pleasurable experience."

.

Holly Graves's picture

Thank you for sharing this with us! I see so many similarities with my own experience of meditating following Jason's approach. I'm glad you've found Recollective Awareness so helpful. I personally would like for you to post more of your experiences if you want to, and if others find it helpful as well.

Richard Fidler's picture

If pretty much everything is OK in meditation--thinking, planning, problem-solving, remembering--then how is meditation different from ordinary consciousness? Will your meditation result in the same calm more restricted forms like zazen produce? Am not being critical. Only trying to understand.

jasonsiff's picture

I see meditation as an arena to experience and explore all states of consciousness. Ordinary thoughts and emotions, which are encountered regularly outside of meditation, often enter into people’s meditation sittings. So the question here is how can we relate to those more mundane thoughts and emotions in a meditative way (a way that fits with one’s intentions and aspirations for meditation)? That meditative way of being with such thoughts will include the cultivation of wholesome qualities of mind, such as kindness, patience, generosity, compassion, and so forth. For example, being more patient with thoughts that revolve around a particular problem may be easier to cultivate in a meditation sitting than in a real-life situation. The quality of patience developed while sitting with those problem-solving thoughts may then come out in real-life situations.
The idea, however, is not to just believe that everything is OK in meditation, because that is often an inauthentic and unrealistic view on one’s experience. If a certain feeling or thought doesn’t feel OK, then the direction of this practice is to be with the experience of feeling it is not OK, and not try to change that. Simply, the principle here is to be honest with yourself about what you are experiencing.
I would answer “yes” to your last question about this practice leading to the same or similar calm states as other practices. But I would hope that you are only convinced of that if, or when, you experience it for yourself. I would say that calm states often come about from another angle (or meditative process, as found in my book). They generally arise through the conflict and tension in one’s mind diminishing and not by focusing on a single object. When that conflict subsides, it is often much easier to focus on a traditional meditation object, if one chooses to do so. This is also something best found out through experimenting with this approach to meditation.

Richard Fidler's picture

Maybe it is just a question of semantics, but when I do the sort of meditation you suggest, I do not call it "meditation." When I am problem-solving, I just do that: I do not get in a particular posture or enter it with a particular mind frame. When I am trying to make sense out of an experience that just happened to me, I just ponder--try to figure it out, try to put it into words that make sense to me. Similarly with study and learning: that involves repetition, reformulating, applying the concept in different contexts--but I do not connect it with meditation.

As for accepting thoughts with kindness, compassion, patience, and generosity, I am afraid I do not understand exactly what you mean. Thoughts come and go--I don't know what it means to "accept them with kindness"--or, for that matter, cast them aside with impatience. They come and go--that is the point, isn't it? Aren't you just making unnecessary judgments when you talk about kindness and its opposite?

So much "mind talk" seems like gobbledegook to me--maybe I don't understand the vocabulary required to understand it. Or, at the basis of it all--who is it that is being kind, compassionate, patient, and all the rest? Aren't you dividing yourself in two, talking about your thoughts on the one hand and a kind and compassionate meditator on the other? It isn't just you--I have a great deal of trouble understanding most discourses on the "mind." It sounds more like Western psychology than Buddhism to me: I wonder if the ancient texts use such figures of speech.

jasonsiff's picture

Thank you for your questions. I will provide a list of simple short answers:
1. When you are problem-solving while sitting in meditation, those thoughts are occurring in meditation and are part of your experience of meditating. To exclude that experience as not meditation is not being honest and truthful with yourself about what goes on when you meditate. By including such thoughts in the meditation when they arise of their own can lead to different ways of relating to them, of knowing them, of utilizing them, and of letting go of them.
2. Studying the Dhamma and listening to Dhamma talks have an effect on how we view our experiences in meditation. A case in point is your use of the concept of thoughts coming and going.
3. Recurring thoughts and emotions not only come and go, they also reappear and continue. When such thoughts are viewed as impermanent (that is, “ending, vanishing”), one may falsely believe that such thoughts will not come back again or that the way for them to vanish altogether is to see them as impermanent. It is more useful to see recurring thoughts as persistent and enduring, as having causes and conditions that keep them going. That is being honest with your experience.
4. When talking about kindness and its opposite, I am making a necessary judgment.
5. This approach to meditation is not about accepting thoughts with kindness. It is about developing greater tolerance for all kinds of thoughts and being gentle with yourself in the process.
6. In this practice of becoming mindful of thoughts and emotions, one is allowing thoughts to go on in meditation and is getting caught up in them. One is reflecting back on the thoughts and seeing how one gets caught up in them—the observing of thoughts is mostly happening through recollection rather than in the present moment. There is no intentional dividing of the observer from objects observed. Thus the meditator is not actively developing a privileged detached observing consciousness that witnesses thoughts in the present moment as can be found in other meditation practices.

sylwilliamson@windstream.net's picture

I am very happy for this opportunity to experience an online retreat with you, Jason. All I have to say is, "it works." For me. It is such a personal process and one size certainly does not fit all.

Sarah11.11's picture

love your approach. I'm looking forward to your teachings.

jasonsiff's picture

Thanks for your enthusiasm. It can really be supportive in one's practice and help cultivate more interest in it.

kimall's picture

Hi Jason,

Thanks for this teaching and explanation. It gives me some additional tools and impetus to work more directly with thoughts in meditation. I am fortunate in that I have never berated myself for falling off the object or thinking too much during meditation in 10+ years; now that I teach a bit, I am just learning how serious an issue this is for some people. Your approach is compassionate.

I have been in a phase of thinking frequently on the cushion for many months. It is curious to me because the thoughts are typically and clearly generated out of anxiety, and yet, I do not act in my life to do things that would relieve the anxiety, even though I could. I wonder to myself, what is the blockage? What allows me to keep avoiding addressing the issues that might calm my mind in meditation (I am well aware of the bliss of calm meditation - why not go for it?). I don't think I am completely dismissing these thoughts, but perhaps I could be doing more to learn about them; perhaps there is more to be mined from examining them. And I might as well -- they run freely anyway!

What I do know is that thoughts are often related to a self: Who I need to be, how I am in relation to things or people, what the future might hold for me. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but it does keep feeding itself. The key is to go in a good direction. Like you, I have found that thinking can be self-corrective toward greater kindness. I am starting to sense that my anxious thoughts are related to a self-image that I do not accept or love very well. Most recently, I have been practicing contentment with how my mind is, how my life is, how I am. It is the first thing that has felt positive among these many months of thinking.

Thanks for the idea to try recollecting more systematically through journaling.

jasonsiff's picture

Your description has gotten me to think about a few things regarding impasses in meditation. In working with an impasse in one’s meditation, instead of trying to address it directly, it may made need some loosening around the edges. Your practice of contentment is certainly helping. But, I think more importantly, it is your interest in what is blocking (or limiting) your ability to sit with the anxious thoughts and know them more thoroughly that is showing you the way through this impasse. (The section on impasses in my book has a great deal to offer on this.) For me to say more, and be confident in what I have to offer, I would need to know what the recurring thoughts are about and the issues that are being avoided in your life. If you like, you can send me a journal or just email me outside of this blog to set up a time to talk. This offer holds for any of you who are reading this and would like to contact me.

cwilkie999's picture

I very much like the fact that Jason is presenting an approach that simply comes directly from his own practice, that he has the confidence to do so. Like many of us, he had difficulty believing in himself and realizing that what he encountered in his own practice is his best, perhaps only authentic, guide to how he should meditate and how his life relates to that derived practice.

I also like his emphasis on how his practice leads him to become aware of his growing kindness to both himself and those with whom he relates on a daily basis. In my view that is really what it is all about rather than the endlessly fascinating things that go on in one's mind while one is meditating, with the amazing insights one may reach, with the "depth" of one's meditation. To me kindness is the bottom line, and something derived from my life experience, not Jason's or anyone else's. Amazing how difficult it is to believe in one's own insights.

LYNDA.BENHAM's picture

Hi Jason. I have just watched your first video. Having been involved with mindfulness/insight meditation for 18 years (including a number of retreats including a 30 day one - all at Gaia House), and never experiencing the calm, bliss etc moments which it seems I should expect to appear reasonably quickly! - I had reached a point where there has been a lot of resistance to sitting at all (and being honest my practice has been very off and on over those years. A vicious circle of "It doesn't work so what's the point etc). My mind seems to be just too unruly. So I am fascinated to try your approach (although a bit of me is saying that it is cheating and involves giving up on samatha practice).
I was also very startled when you said people could email you their Journal entries (how many people tend to do these retreats?!) and it made me realise that I am unclear what I am journalling. Presumably not the detailed content (eg "repetitive planning for my holiday in a few weeks") but rather the just the process (eg "a lot of repetitive planning")? Am I recollecting/reflecting upon what (wish this accepted italics!) I thought about - which seems to take me quickly into psychological/therapeutic approaches - or just the sort of thoughts I had. And I am curious what sort of comment/feedback you would feel it was useful to give?

jasonsiff's picture

Thank you for asking about journaling. I wanted to say more about it. Using your example, I would recommend writing the detailed content: “repetitive planning for my holiday in a few weeks.” I would even suggest going more into the content: “I was anxious about my upcoming holiday, dreading the travel, wondering if the hotel room will be to my liking, and if the weather will be too hot, and what I would pack then. I then flashed on my closet and started flipping through one shirt after another, deciding on which ones to pack.” This kind of description brings one closer to the actual experience of sitting with the thoughts and emotions. A description of the process is usually distancing and involves summarizing and fitting the experience into certain categories, while a more detailed description can create more awareness of things that otherwise could easily be disregarded or forgotten.
This kind of journaling involves recollecting the meditation sitting and writing down descriptions of what happened, but can also include reflections on what happened. I suggest that people put their afterthoughts in brackets, so that they can be discerned from the actual thoughts and impressions from the meditation sitting. Journal entries can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages in length. Some people write in bullet points, others tend to write in phrases and fragmented sentences, while others may write in long sentences with perfect grammar and punctuation. I’ll read them however they are written, though I only accept typed emails, preferably as Word docs, but they can be embedded in the email message. If anyone has any other questions about journal writing, please feel free to ask, as I am sure your question will be helpful to others as well.

LYNDA.BENHAM's picture

Thank you. Your approach also seems to encourage telepathy(apart from the shirts)!
I have downloaded and started your Unlearning Meditation book - a few more questions.
1) if I am thinking about eg my dynamic with someone, where I feel I could choose to dig deeper or not - is one choice more recommended than the other?
2) in a few places in the book I got the impression that it was fine to incorporate more than one approach in a sitting as long as all were gentle rather than 'trying' eg sometimes it feels relaxing to just be with breathing when nothing much happening re thoughts/feelings. But in referring to a journal (p77) you say "Awareness of breathing comes with a different set of rules than allowing thoughts and feelings does" and suggest this could/would lead to confusion?

jasonsiff's picture

Your first question is very hard to answer in a definitive manner, and I would prefer not to. It is a good question however. Instead of looking at what you could do in a meditation sitting, it is more consistent with this approach to meditation to look at what you did in regard to that dynamic in the meditation sitting and how that worked. So if you chose to dig deeper into it, how did you do it? What happened when you did it? And then you can get a better sense if the conditions were right for you to dig deeper, and whether your way of investigating that dynamic in the sitting was skillful or not.
Your second question is much easier to answer. When someone always brings his or her attention back to the breath in meditation, it is often done as a rule, not a choice. The rule is that when the mind wanders, it must be stopped and brought back to a neutral (or wholesome) object, such as the breath. With the allowing of thoughts and emotions as a key feature of one’s meditation practice, there is no rule about bringing one’s attention back to a neutral object, but one can choose to do so. So when a person is instructed to return to the breath and also allow thoughts and emotions, there will be confusion. And that confusion is usually resolved by following the instruction to return to the breath, as that is the more meditative instruction. Say if I gave the instruction to gently return one’s attention to the body whenever one got caught up in thoughts, but remember to be kind and allowing of one’s thoughts, it would set up a similar situation. People would hold their attention on their body while meditating and try not to get caught up in thoughts. The only remedy for this predicament that I found is to instruct: “Allow your thoughts and feelings into the meditation sitting and if you need to bring your attention to something grounding, you can bring your attention to the touch of your hands while sitting or any external bodily contact point. But don’t try to hold your attention on your body for too long. Let you mind go back into thoughts or whatever it is drawn to.” If there is a rule in this instruction, it is to allow thoughts and emotions to form in one’s meditation sitting without trying to interrupt them or do anything about them (which, of course, is not possible all of the time). So it is better to say that it is a choice: the meditator has permission to follow thoughts or not, to be with the breath or not, to stay with the contact points, to do any practice he or she would like to do. There are no rules to follow (or break), but that puts one in the position of having to make one’s own choices and learn about the skillfulness of those choices.

bcooper's picture

When I first encountered these teachings I was puzzled why I had never heard them anywhere else--not only did they seem contradictory to traditional vipassana or mindfulness teachings, or even Zen-- I was skeptical that one person could have found a more beneficial way to teach meditation compared to the many other traditional Buddhist teachers.

Later, when I read Siff’s "Unlearning Meditation," I realized it was an accurate map of many of my experiences in meditation. Most importantly, rather than discounting my thinking I was encouraged to learn about it and my experiences, and to reconsider my practice of noting my thoughts and returning to an object of concentration. This made a lot of sense and seemed like a better way to work with my thoughts. I’ve been practicing along these lines ever since.

Recently I’ve been reading Thanissaro Bhikkhu, especially his book "Right Mindfulness." He too, is very critical of the modern use of the word mindfulness—in a very detailed manner he shows that mindfulness, as used in the Buddhist discourses, is much more about remembering, rather than noticing the present, non-judgmentally. It is most definitely not about bare awareness. This remembering that Thanissaro discusses has some similarity to recollective awareness.

It looks like there may be a strong case to reconsider some of the traditional ways Buddhist meditation has been taught.

Holly Graves's picture

I have also had a sense that these teachings are contradictory to traditional meditation teachings, bcooper, and I have struggled to reconcile the two in my practice. I read Jason's book when it first came out, and found it liberating! But as I tried to sit using his approach, I couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't the way that the Buddha taught, and I eventually went back to breath and body awareness meditation methods. But the more I practiced them, the more I saw that they just don't work for me, and I have tended to blame myself for not trying hard enough, or not going on retreats to have more time to perfect these methods and become a better meditator. So, I decided to read Jason's book again, and was happy to find out that he was going to be offering this online retreat. I've been practicing his approach for a few weeks now, and enjoying the journaling process, but there's still that internal struggle of "is this, or is this not, a method that is in line with the Dhamma?" I hope that somehow Jason can offer suggestions on how to resolve this quandary.
Thanks for sharing your views on Thanissaro Bhikkhu. I would like to explore the similarities between his teachings and Jason's approach.

jasonsiff's picture

I would hope that people doing any kind of Buddhist meditation would encounter this quandary of “is this method in line with the Dhamma or not.” You are bringing up a very important point here. When learning a meditation practice, we may have to suspend our doubts and reservations about it in order to do it “properly.” With an open meditation practice like Recollective Awareness, anyone can doubt it, question its effectiveness and credibility, be confused about where it leads and what it does, and, in effect, be in the position of having the practice prove itself instead of being in the more common position of having to prove oneself. Rather than putting an end to someone’s confusion, I would validate it and suggest staying with it. That way he or she would resolve the questions around meditation practice from having done that form of meditation and through honest reflection on that practice.
Over twenty years ago, when I was developing this approach to meditation, I believed it to be supported by various passages found in the Pali Canon, ones that I studied as a monk and found useful in my own meditation sittings. So I saw it as firmly grounded in the Buddha’s Teachings. But so are many of the Buddhist practices that are currently taught (some of which are quite different from, and even opposite to, what I teach). Is this approach to meditation more in line with the Dhamma or are other approaches? To me, this kind of question is not useful. In fact, it can lead to arguments and debate. What is useful about a meditation practice is whether or not it helps someone develop the qualities of mind that the Buddha advocated; whether it supports study and investigation into the Dhamma; and whether it helps reduce suffering and increase empathy and compassion. The question becomes “Does this kind of meditation support my study and practice of the Dhamma?” instead of “Did the Buddha actually teach this kind of meditation?”

acss1's picture

Jason,

Thank you for your teaching. Along the vein of tradition, I'd like to know if many of the folks who have practiced Recollective Awareness have come to experience/realize No-Self? I suppose this question could be posed to all the other insights that might arise during traditional Buddhist meditation practices as well.

AC

jasonsiff's picture

Yes, folks who have practiced Recollective Awareness have some of the experiences and insights that are talked about in more traditional practices. They also have experiences and insights that are not found in the more traditional Vipassana meditation practices, or at least, not recognized by them. I greatly appreciate your question and unfortunately this whole topic is too large for me to cover in a short reply.
As a teacher, I do not present concepts about experiences and insights; instead, I listen closely to people’s meditation experiences and understandings of the Dhamma in their own words and engage them in a dialog about those experiences and insights.
When it comes to teaching the Dhamma, I put a great deal of emphasis on the teachings of dependent arising and rarely talk about impermanence, suffering, and no-self (not self). My focus is on understanding the arising of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and impressions, and how they are fueled and kept alive, rather than how they are to be let go of. What I have witnessed (and heard) countless times is that by seeing into how thoughts and emotions are fueled, the fuel for them is withdrawn, and they diminish, or lose their hold over one, on their own.

jasonsiff's picture

After reading all of the comments and replies, as well as crafting a few of my own replies, my sense is that people are interested in understanding this approach to meditation. I would be happy to answer any questions you have regarding this approach. So please let me know that you have a question and would like a response in your post, otherwise I may not know if I should respond to it.
As part of this retreat, people can contact me about their meditation sittings. I regularly receive meditation journals from students and arrange phone calls or skype sessions instead of responding by email. You can email me at: Jason@skillfulmeditation.org

jasonsiff's picture

Hi Alice,
Thank you for bringing up the opening verses of the Dhammapada. This quote of the first two verses is from Venerable Narada Thera's translation, which is the translation I read as a monk in Sri Lanka in the 1980s.
"1. Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one
speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of
that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel
follows the hoof of the draught-ox.
2. Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states.
Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one
speaks or acts with pure mind, because of
that, happiness follows one, even as one’s
shadow that never leaves."
In Recollective Awareness meditation we are exercising restraint when it comes to expressing unwholesome thoughts through speech and action, but we are allowing them to go on in the mind as we sit.

cwilkie999's picture

I like his approach very much and found it liberating and basically a method of being kind to oneself by letting oneself be rather than berating oneself for not being able to successfully follow instructions from a wizened master or a thousand year old tradition. After many years of meditating I finally realized I was going to die someday so I may as well meditate however I wanted to. Initially I was terrified that after all these years I had failed and somehow was no longer really meditating when I simply followed, if you want to call it that, my thoughts rather than suppressing them, or "letting them go" and and going back to following my breath, body scanning, focusing on a koan etc. All of which shows the power instructions have over a meditator. So I realized how absurd it was to be terrified of not getting it right. Not getting what right? We're just sitting still and breathing. I can do it any damn way I please. It took me a very long time to develop that self-confidence.

crazyblues's picture

I love this what you said: "After many years of meditating I finally realized I was going to die someday so I may as well meditate however I wanted to... "
Yes! thank you for saying what I've been feeling for years.

jamesehoey's picture

Can someone explain to me how this retreat works?

Many thanks

Jamie

Joanna Piacenza's picture

Hi Jamie,

Each week this month, we will feature a retreat video from meditation instructor Jason Siff. Jason's retreat will explore different types of meditation practice, especially "Recollective Awareness" meditation.

Although the first week (this week) is free, you must become a Supporting or Sustaining Member to watch the retreat in totality. You can become a member of Tricycle here: http://www.tricycle.com/join.

All best,
Joanna Piacenza
Web Editor

mards's picture

Very interesting..... I have been doing something similar not knowing there was such a thing as Recollective Awareness Meditation.....I just began to pay attention to my thoughts because the effort to ignore-naming them took a great amount of energy and made me feel - after the sitting - that I have been engaged in a (subtle) battle.
I do appreciate meditating in the awareness of the body and concentrating on the breath but somehow not including my thoughts sometimes creates a lot conflict in me. I feel I am becoming sort of a "-gentler-kinder" judge, but a judge nevertheless... As I heard Jason I felt relief and I also felt guilty ( has mind finally won?) I also noticed I was losing my ability to think outside the cushion, perhaps by repressing the thought process all together.
Here is a quote from Jason in an interview I found on internet:
"And there’s something about how we do instructions that’ll keep us stuck, that we probably get very rule-bound or rigid around instructions, or we feel that confined and limited, that we need to only focus in those particular areas like the breath or noting our experience and not to look any further. So instructions also have this characteristic of defining meditation for us and limiting our range of experience, even though at first you may find that an instruction points you to a part of your experience that normally you don’t look at" - See more at: http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2010/08/bg-185-unlearning-meditation/#sthas...
It would be really helpful if Tricycle conducted a Retreat with different Teachers and the different perspectives on the issues of Meditation and Thoughts. Not to find a winner but to help students.
For a student is extremely confusing all these opposing views and contradictions without hearing the actual teachers discuss their views......

wilnerj's picture

This mindfulness of thinking is akin to psychoanalysis where the analyst will provoke the analysand to question what has surfaced in the encounter. It is also akin to self-analysis where the contemplative performs both roles. What is emphasized is withholding judgment when observing the stream of thoughts and emotions. This too is akin to the analyst's circumspection of his or her encounter with the analysand in avoiding what is termed counter-transference.

It can be beneficial. I had commenced my sitting discipline this way but have shifted to a more rigorous approach. Note that the author of this reply to the video introducing this retreat has an aversion to the term "practice."

eld0306's picture

Is anyone out there now? I've been meditating using this approach for several months and found it t has rejuvenated my practice. Looking forward to this retreat. I'm assuming Jason will have other videos each Monday. If I'm wrong, please let me know.

matt5's picture

Mindfulness of Thinking is such an interesting topic, and under-represented in meditation teaching, at least in my experience.

I had been meditating for years using a variety of typical techniques in which thoughts and various other mental states and experiences were seen - to some degree - as distractions or things to be avoided or overcome. Whilst I didn't really appreciate it at the time, I now see these kind of approaches as quite dysfunctional, even cruel. Given that thoughts are as integral to our lives as the other senses, trying to stop them makes about as much sense as poking your eyes out or blocking your ears (so you don't have to hear and see disturbing things).

Furthermore, even the idea of trying to observe or 'be with' one's thoughts seems to be misguided - a recipe for failure - for, as Claire describes above, thoughts are often far too slippery and mercurial to catch 'in the act'. And if you are aware of them, then you are not seeing them 'as they are', but as they are when you observe them, in which case they often just run off with their tail between their legs, almost as though they are ashamed to be seen (in meditation)!

Looking forward to the rest of the retreat and some interesting discussions here. I joined Tricycle just to participate.

elhall888's picture

I'm really intrigued by this idea of 'recollective awareness', and like a few of the other repliers have found myself experimenting along these lines, without awareness of Jason Siff's approach and concerned that it meant that I actually wasn't really meditating. I've been taught that what I label as daydreaming and ruminating while sitting means I'm no longer meditating, and also that shifting from one focus - breath, sound, body, metta - within the container of one meditation period was unskillful, although I found it otherwise, for the most part. Thank you Jason Siff for articulating something that has been happening naturally in my practice of insight meditation ... I'm eager to listen and read more, with the hope that your teaching will provide somewhat of a structure for my explorations along these lines. Is there a fine line between practicing 'recollective awareness' and having the mind dance all over the place while sitting? I practice with the intention of resting in that sweet spot between concentration and inquiry ... without striving too hard for it ... hmm, I'm thinking this approach may help and look forward to tuning in every week to learn more.

jasonsiff's picture

That is a good question. Sometimes we need to over-correct in our meditation practice because it has become too rigid and limiting. So I suggest that people who have meditated in a more formal, structured way let themselves get lost in thoughts and emotions as they transition to a more open meditation practice. At first it seems like they are no longer meditating, which you have rightly observed, and so their definition of meditation needs to change. I prefer to define meditation as what arises when one has the intention to meditate; that is, meditation encompasses everything that one experiences when one meditates.
A shifting attention is natural. We can't remain focused on one thing for too long, and trying to stay focused on one thing may actually create more stress than it relieves. In Recollective Awareness meditation, people are often moving from one area of focus to another through the course of a meditation sitting. Recognizing what you are interested in, or focused on, at any time in the meditation sitting will help in making a choice as to what to stay with. For instance, if you are focused on sounds for part of the sitting, it makes more sense to stay with hearing sounds rather than to move your attention to something else. In the same way, if you are sitting with emotional turmoil, it may make more sense to stay with that than try to move your attention to something else, such as your breath or bodily sensations. But we may not immediately become aware of what we are focusing on in the meditation sitting, and so may find that our attention keeps coming back to something (or that a thought or emotion keeps recurring and asking for attention) until we finally let our attention rest with it.

claire grossetete's picture

Thank you for your teaching which I feel will be a great help for me. Let me just give two remarks on the way things happens for me when I meditate
1) so far, never was I able to be aware of the emergence of a thought
2) when the awareness happens, the thought has already been evolving,( I cannot determine how long), and then, if I put my attention on it, even as lightly as possible, the thought just fades away, leaving a faint memory of the content.
So, il we are to work with the content of the thought, should we go on being caught in it or can we find a level of awareness which allows the thought to go on drifting. During formal meditation, most of the thoughts that occur to me are recurrent thoughts, folowing patterns many times overrun

jasonsiff's picture

Trying to be aware of the emergence of a thought is unrealistic. As you have observed, we are usually aware of a thought as it is evolving, and any attempt to detach from it or notice it in the moment often ends it. In developing awareness of thinking in meditation, we need to know what we are thinking about, and getting caught in the content will happen for periods of time in our sittings. Reflecting back on our thoughts after the meditation sitting is over will give us some of the themes of the thoughts and what may be fueling some of the repetitive thoughts.

aliceh2's picture

Hi Jason,
"The Dhammapada's" opening words are: "We are what we think." So, being aware of our thoughts and thinking processes through meditation seems to me to be essential to our understanding of who we are and how we percieve our world. Your approach of Recollective Awareness addresses this idea directly in a very straight-forward and useful manner. It is very kind of you to offer to review journaling to show or direct how this meditative approach works. I have used it myself over several years and have found it to be very beneficial.