Weird meditation / productivity question

This is a question about thoughts that arise during meditation. Originally I asked this on Reddit, but I wanted to check in here because this forum seems to have a good intersection of tech geeks and meditation people.

Anyway…so thoughts come up when I’m meditating.

Philosophically, I know that the idea is to notice the thought and let it go. That works for me for some thoughts. But occasionally I get something that my (ADHD) brain latches onto, and doesn’t want to let go of because it is - objectively - important. A note for something like a client project that I realize must be done today, etc.

I could keep focusing on trying to let it go and trust that it’ll come back later. But I’m wondering if anybody keeps a scratchpad or something close at hand to scribble down things like this that pop into one’s head. I could probably scribble them down without even having to open my eyes.

Noting that when I asked this on /r/meditation on Reddit, one of the replies was, “Thank the mind for being a very good servant and ask it to remind you again later after meditation”, with a follow-up note when I pushed back a bit saying, “If it’s important enough it will come back. Learning to let go IS the essence of meditation.”

“Ignore it and it will come back later” isn’t my experience AT ALL. And it is, quite literally, impossible to test that assumption. Anything that got forgotten until it exploded couldn’t be shown to have come up in mediation previously, precisely because “letting it go” means no record was kept.

What do y’all do?

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I am by no means an expert, but generally, I try to hew to the “ignore it and it will come back later” approach. However, there are times when an idea is so persistent (not the same as important) that it will keep pushing its way into my consciousness until I get it out of my head. In those cases, I’ll write it down.

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This is tough.
Maybe if you have a device nearby you could just say, “Hey Siri, remind me about the thing.” (I’m doing this a lot when I’m driving.)
You might also schedule some thinking time before your meditation session, when you can make notes.

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I’m also in the camp of letting the idea pass and hope it will come back later. All of this is a journey. Try the opposite (write it down and go back to meditation) for a week and see how it works.

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I agree. It’s a practice, and it might be possible that with practice, the thoughts will come at more opportune times.

One thing I’ve only recently learned is to heed my thoughts when they occur (outside of meditation) and make a note about them (after all, it’s my brain trying to tell me something :-)).

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What’s your goal with the meditation practice, and what’s the best way to reach that goal?

If it’s “be mindful,” then noticing the interesting thought is important, and writing it down (or Siri-ing it as suggested above) is probably the easiest way to let it go. Don’t sweat the purity of the practice. Do what works.

If your goal, however, is letting go… well, that answers the question, and letting go of those interesting thoughts is a great way of lifting that mind-dumbell.

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Agreed!

Many years ago, while working in print shops, I would create notebooks small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and I would constantly jot things down. I can’t even tell you how many I have but just capturing the core thought is important to me, no matter if it comes to fruition or not.

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I can’t say if this is a good idea for you, but I have a habit that’s helped me when struggling to sustain concentration. I keep paper and pen beside me during a session. When I am am distracted or interrupted, I make a tally mark at the top of the page. I deal with it and quickly get back to work. If I need to make a note for any reason, I do it at the bottom of the page. The tally marks at the top of the page help me to gauge my overall success concentrating. Seeing one note and one or two tally marks lets me know I did okay writing down the idea. Seeing a lot of tally marks, and perhaps not so brilliant notes, tells me to do better. A blank sheet is obviously wonderful and starts happening more often over time.

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This is kind of the crux of the matter. The idea is to learn to let things go. And if I could get my thoughts to line up properly during thinking time before meditation, that would be fantabulous. :smiley:

In this case I’m not talking about ideas that are interesting, although I definitely know what @ChrisUpchurch means about ideas that get “persistent”. I’m talking about thoughts that (for example) equate to placeholders for important open loops.

I feel like with my memory I can’t count on the thought circling back around…at least not in a practical amount of time. And if it doesn’t, then things blow up (in the proverbial sense, of course!).

Part of this doubles back to getting everything into the proverbial “trusted system”, a la GTD. I’m doing better with that, but if something that needs to be captured shows up during meditation, I’m trying to figure out the best intersection between “write it down now” (quite literally, the rule for GTD) and “let it go”.

That’s certainly what I’m hoping. :slight_smile:

I like this idea. I’m wondering if the Siri voice will knock me out of relaxation though. Siri kind of stresses me out. :smiley:

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Nothing makes meditation more mindful than yelling “Hey Siri” repeatedly at increasing volumes only to have it misunderstand you and try to phone your cat.

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A couple of other options spring to mind:

  1. Use Drafts. You could create a Shortcut that does the single action Create Draft with Dictation with the timeout set to 10 seconds in the Draft. Set up the AccessibilityTouchBack Tap to use a double (or triple) back tap to trigger the Shortcut when a thought appears. The timeout is the length of silence that Drafts stops recording after. This way you will get a new Draft at the top of your inbox for each thought with the transcription of your spoken thought(s).

  2. Use a voice recorder like Just Press Record to record your whole meditation session; you would only need to speak the thought out loud and not invoke Siri and the possibilities of misinterpretation. JPR also allows automatic transcription of the recording, so you would come out with a long recording, but just the spoken words in the transcription.

Hope these suggestions help.

Edit: The Drafts option, including with Back Tap, needs the phone to be unlocked to run, which may break the meditation more. The Just Press Record option will carry on recording (unlimited duration – unlimited by the app, limited by available resource :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:) with the screen locked.

Also worth noting that, if you use guided meditation, this won’t work without using headphones or having the whole guided session transcribed…)

I just let it go but a friend of mine holds a small pebble in his hands when meditating and, if a really important “to do” comes to mind, he places the pebble next to him.

When he finishes meditating, it reminds him there was something important to act on and it’s usually fresh enough to be able to remember it, sometimes with a little effort.

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This thing has happend to me recently. I tend to let it go but I also have the habit of trying to recall the distracting thoughts that came during my short session when it’s finished. If I do not remember anything, I just let it go. but it will come back.

I like the “pebble trcik” that @onepointzero mentioned, maybe another option is to perform a brain dump before starting the session so you get to it fresh??

If what you’re after is relaxation, then I don’t see any reason not to pause to jot down a note or dictate briefly to your phone or do whatever you need to do to get that bug out of your brain. Not doing so would seem to me to have the opposite effect of relaxation.

If you’re after some sort of state of mindfulness — being present, not letting your actions always be immediately and reactively dictated by your thoughts and feelings (or however you define mindfulness as it relates to meditation) — then I think it’s something you’ll need to work on over time. But that’s why it’s called a practice, not a performance. The point is not to be a good meditator. The point is to develop a level of discipline that you can carry with you and use throughout your whole day.

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I keep a small notebook and a pencil with me. If something comes to me that is important I can write it down and ‘get rid’ of the thought for the rest of the session. That works well for people who have racing thoughts at night - it’s basically parking the issue and removes the worry of forgetting it or not dealing with it. Of course, if it’s not actionable then just let the thought float away. You don’t need/want to record everything.

These days I keep technology well away from me in meditation (or at the very least in flight mode and do not disturb). Technology is the centre of my work life, and I don’t need it there. This is a special time (in my case, just for me and God). This conduit to busyness can stay away.

One thing I would comment on is the suggestion that we need a way to measure success. I think that should be avoided. As @tonycraine eloquently put it, meditation is a practice not a performance, and you shouldn’t set yourself targets for how well you’re doing it. Rather, simply ensure you do it regularly and you will over time find it more meaningful and helpful in whatever you want to achieve with it.

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I so love that you are asking a question about meditation on the MPU forum (well, Focused, but you know what I mean).

A couple of things come to mind. One is about when you are meditating. Is it happening after you’ve had any ‘inputs’ (like checking phone, reading, email, etc) in which your mind-body is a bit stimulated?

The second is that my understanding is that there is tremendous value and heart in the experience you are describing in relation to knowing your mind. That is, if a central idea of mindfulness type meditations is to observe one’s mind, then observing that ‘hanging on to an idea’ is a delicate and important experience. Rather than ‘letting it go’ (as in “notice a thought, let it pass”), I see the practice at least in part to be noticing the holding on. Moreover, it is not to judge the holding on as being ‘bad’ but rather to simply observe it.

Have been reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever you are, there you go” and I so recommend it.

Of course, none of this response is really answering your question! (well, in a roundabout way I think my contribution would be that perhaps if you stop the practice to write something down – or shriek at Siri – then the writing down inadvertently takes precedence over the practice of understanding and observing one’s mind).

Thanks for opening up this surprising thread. It’s so great to read the responses.

Now, back to DNS configurations. :wink:

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I wanted to +1 this, and to add that advice applies to meditation and to GTD.

Sounds like you’ve found yourself a beautiful conundrum!

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Actually, I threw it into “Uncategorized” on MPU. Rosemary decided that instead of being arguably off-topic for MPU, it was on-topic for Focused. :smiley: We have great mods here.

Yes. I’m trying to look at it “one level removed”, i.e. WHY are “the rules” the rules? Rules are frequently sensible-but-arbitrary demarcation points for ideas that are otherwise reasonable.

Treating a meditation session as a GTD brain-dump exercise - where (quite literally) anything and everything that gets noticed gets dumped into the “trusted system” for analysis later - is clearly NOT what one is trying to accomplish in meditation.

But I can see the flip side too. If the goal of getting things important things noted somewhere is to help free oneself of the “monkey mind”, what effect does “letting it go” have on that goal?

That’s a good question, and something I’ll have to do some more thinking about. Maybe rescheduling the meditation would be useful…?

Right. The follow-up question, of course, is what you do with that noticing. Frequently, I think it’s perfectly-valid for the answer to be “nothing”. But I would think that “what to do” would be on a continuum.

If, for example, the building were to catch on fire, you wouldn’t just “notice it and let go”. By the same token, jumping up and screaming and running around and panicking would be natural - but that wouldn’t be what “mindfulness” looks like in that situation either. A mindful response to a fire would be to either put it out (if feasible), or get oneself (and any others who may not be aware of the fire) out of the building in as safe and direct a way as possible.

Obviously my “important things” don’t rise to the level of “the building is on fire”. But using that analogy, I’m trying to frame the question more as “what does ‘a mindful response’ look like in this situation?”

The fascinating thing is that according to somebody like David Allen (GTD), the reason for writing everything down and getting it into a system is to enable you to not require your brain to do the “holding on”.

The underlying question here may be more one of “action threshold”. At what point does it move from “something to notice” to “something to do”?

I’ll check into it. Thanks!

As a completely random side note, all discussions of meditation vaguely remind me of this exchange from the great comedy routine “Ti Kwon Leep” (The Frantics - Boot to the Head - 16. Ti Kwan Leep - YouTube):

Ed Gruberman: Yeah, uh, no disrespect or nothin’, but, like, uh, how long is this gonna take?
Teacher: Ti Kwan Leep is not a path to a door, but a road leading forever towards the horizon
Ed Gruberman: So like, what, an hour or so?

I’m in the same camp. The term meditation is a very loaded one. Everybody has some and often strong aspirational assumptions about it. Yet, there isn’t the one right approach.

I never got into a fixed habit of meditating every day at a set time. Yet, I usually feel the need to meditate when my focus level dropped noticeably. In those situations I am constantly pondering on “project B”, while “project A” actually needs to be done.

If during those times I can’t calm my racing mind by just sitting down and meditating and even a guided meditation doesn’t cut it, I just let it go for that day.
For me, there is not much value in suffering through a forced duration while stressing out about the feeling that I might be doing meditation “wrong”. Just noticing that it doesn’t work in that situation is already a valuable insight to take note of.

If a particular thought keeps popping up, I will write it down to get back to it later, but I will also need to reset my mind.
A small mini-workout does the trick. Usually, I will grab my bike and go for a short ride to run a (fake) errand in the city. While the buzzing city surroundings might seem too noisy and anything but calm, being forced to pay close attention to traffic will help me to be present and reset my drifting mind.

If that’s not possible the games Good Sudoku and Bad Chess will do the trick. Especially the expert skull sudokus won’t leave much room for other thoughts. The same goes for solving Rubik’s cubes or the more challenging cube shape mods of which there are countless.
To me, all this has a meditative effect. I can notice the thoughts as they will disturb my flow of solving the puzzles.

When I noticed my mind was racing too much, I found great benefit in doing “Yoga Nidra” especially in the early afternoon, which essentially is a (guided) body scan. It can work wonders for me in terms of calming my mind and overcoming a post-lunch energy slump. Some research suggests that the effect on the body is comparable to a short phase of deep sleep.
Again, having something to focus on like muscle tension or pressure of the ground against the body helps me to catch thoughts more easily and it occupies my mind enough to distract me from stressing about whether I can meditate or not.

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This is the skill I’m really trying to practice. e.g., I was just getting stressed about being feisty over in the Jony Ive 10-year memorial thread and, noticing my stress, took a deep breath. It helped a lot!

This part of meditation/mindfulness is really all about emotional regulation. It’s funny: we’re doing a course for how to help our near-toddler learn to work with emotions called Big Little Feelings. A core idea is to notice what you’re feeling, acknowledge and appreciate it, then move forward. We’re supposed to say “You look like you’re upset. It’s okay to be upset. Why don’t we do [x] instead?” I’m finding the lessons valuable for my own life too.

This idea of “intuitive meditation” seems related, and really valuable.

Then again, I’m reminded of something a meditation teacher I had once said: “if you actually kept up a good meditation practice, you wouldn’t have these moments where your head is spinning!” Maybe the same is true for @webwalrus and these intrusive thoughts. :wink:

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