Thought Suppression and Concentration Meditation
Some interesting comments have come out of the Basic Concentration Meditation guide. In the next iteration of the guide, I’m going to integrate those points as they’re important.
The stand-out theme so far is thought suppression: “To suppress or not to suppress?”
From reading the comments and emails I’ve received, and from speaking to students on Skype, I can see that this is something many of you aren’t getting. Hopefully this post will clear up the confusion and unlock concentration meditation for you.
What is Concentration Meditation?
Firstly, here is what concentration meditation is NOT:
- Concentration meditation is not “watching thoughts”.
- Concentration meditation is not “watching the breath” (there is more on this at the end of the post).
- Concentration meditation is not “watching sensations”.
- Concentration meditation is not “noting” (verbal labelling of anything).
- Concentration meditation is not “observing thoughts, feelings and sensations with mindfulness and equanimity”.
- Concentration meditation is not “being accepting of what is”.
- Concentration meditation is not “being present”.
Those are all some form or other of insight meditation. That is not what we are doing here.
Concentration meditation is an artificial mind-created state of extreme focus on one thing: your object.
Besides possibly in hunting, I cannot think of any natural occurrence of concentration meditation. This is something weird we are doing here. It is not normal, and if you are trying to have this be some sort of improved version of what you do anyway, you are on the wrong page.
I mean, just look at the picture of the girl with the mind-ray coming out of her fucking head. I did not choose that to have you under the illusion that what we are doing is normal. This is not normal. We are big crazy weirdos doing weird things with our minds to experience altered, trippy states and extreme pleasure we didn’t “earn”. It is clear that it has been made intentionally difficult for us to “earn” pleasure in this world, so fuck it, and fuck them. With concentration meditation you get to have your cake and eat it too.
Again, this mind-state can create rapturous highs “for no reason”. We are hacking the mind hardware so we can direct it towards what we want to experience.
Many of you have way too much other mental activity going on while trying to do concentration meditation. I understand that — you are wanting to “narrate” your meditation to check if you’re doing it right. You might ask yourself, “Am I in jhana yet?” or, “What’s the next step?” That’s completely normal when starting out, but you must quickly recognize that it doesn’t lead to the deep concentration states we are aiming for. If you are talking to yourself, you are not spending those thought cycles becoming more absorbed in the object. At some point you need to let all that verbal narration go and just categorize it as more noise to be suppressed.
We are doing pure concentration meditation here. Do not tolerate any mental activity from yourself that is not being pointed at the object or into rapture.
Most of concentration meditation, especially when first starting out, is actually thought suppression. Verbal thoughts that come in need to be forcibly pushed away to the sides, or pushed “through” to get back at the object. Your attention is like a laser just pummelling the object, and anything that tries to come in from the sides is just stuff to be ignored or suppressed. It’s the same with body sensations. If you’re uncomfortable or keep getting itchy or fidgety, this again is more noise to just be ignored or suppressed.
You are trying to “carve out a space” in your awareness for the object to be in. You carve out this space by rejecting any thoughts or feelings that try to enter that space. You ruthlessly push them away with your mind.
With practice you will form a “channel” in your mind — a kind of stream, free of thoughts, which you can point at any object to achieve concentration extremely quickly. When you reach that point, it will feel more like your thoughts are “falling away at the sides”. However, until you get there, you will mostly be suppressing thoughts by actively pushing them away in order to create that channel.
Types of Suppression
I always thought there was no such thing as suppressing, if you did that you would just make it worse and that the only way through negative emotions is acceptance.
I understand that this idea of intentionally suppressing thoughts and feelings will sound strange to many of you — we live in an era of emotionalism where we have been told over and over again that expressing yourself and “letting it all out” is the best ideal to strive for, and that “holding thoughts and feelings in” will eventually lead to you becoming an insane person teetering on the edge. There is some truth to this, and I recommend you open the original conversation in a new tab and read it afterwards, because there I talk about different types of suppression in everyday life and when it is and isn’t beneficial. In general however I think that the kind of overt focus on emotionality we see on television and in the media is a sign of how gynocentric the West currently is — but that’s a topic for another day.
Getting back to concentration meditation, it’s important to remember that in this context we are only talking about suppressing thoughts and feelings during your concentration session. It need not spread out to the rest of your life. This is a compartmentalized type of suppression, just for your concentration practice.
Suppression and “Real Life”
While I am in no way advocating suppressing thoughts as a dominant life strategy, I will point out now that one of the most amazing things about concentration meditation is that negative emotional states continue to be suppressed automatically for some time after the session. So, the rapture and pleasure created by entering a deep jhana gets “written to the mind” and persists for hours or even days afterwards. This has some obvious advantages. For example, if I am about to go out to socialize, I will absolutely do concentration meditation and enter a deep jhana for 15–30 minutes before leaving the house, because it means I meet people with goodwill and a positive attitude. Why wouldn’t I want to use that tool if I have it? Why would you worry what people think of you, or get anxious about possibly feeling anxious or inadequate at some point in the future, if you could obliterate all that before you even left the house? It is a tool well worth developing. On a more fundamental level, it is also really nice to have these options available to you.
When it comes to specifically suppressing thoughts, there are indeed situations in “normal life” where you might want to do this — in particular, while in pain or during certain types of depression. To finish off this section, here is a paste from the comments section describing how and when you can use concentration meditation to suppress negative mind-states as a practical tool in such situations. It is really nice to have these options! If you suffer from regular depression, this is a particularly strong reason to learn concentration meditation, as its ability to suppress negative mind-states is second to none. If everybody learned concentration meditation to a good level, the antidepressant companies would go out of business overnight.
Suppressing thoughts in concentration meditation is fine. If the thoughts are that important, you’ll just think them again later while not meditating. 99% of your daily thoughts are completely useless anyway, aren’t they? Think about that for a moment.
Furthermore, thoughts are really fickle beasts. For me, and most people I suspect, they are largely at the mercy of the underlying emotional currents. For example, I had far too much to drink last night and the hangover had my thoughts turn, apparently arbitrarily, to self-hating thoughts. I am an extremely happy, positive person in my life now, so when I detect this happening I KNOW this is my body talking. The thoughts in this context are nonsense attachment of false meaning to painful body sensations (opioids (it might be a kind of intentional “overloading”). It took about 45 minutes of concentration but I beat the hangover. I just killed off the pain with the meditation then the thoughts fixed themselves. Miracle, eh. At that point I began wondering whether there was anything meditation COULDN’T do.). It is vital that thoughts are not “thunk” while in this state! That’s one of the problems with depressive people: they THINK while in the depressed state (when they actually should be asleep) and write themselves a new character story/history from that body state, and become self-hating due to that new story. Break that feedback loop! Concentration meditation is by far the best way to do this. STOP THINKING! Pick an object and get absorbed. Concentration meditation makes nerve cells release
I am not suggesting people slack off all their troubles and just stay in jhana all the time and never think about or manage their problems (even though, for many people, that would probably actually HELP them solve their problems, since they would be a lot happier in general and therefore able to approach them from a positive mindset). I am suggesting however that concentration meditation can be used as a magic pill whenever you feel bad seemingly “for no reason” — which is what depression basically is. Why suffer so much in this life? The really good thing about being able to do this is that, when you do get round to looking at your problems, you will be able to do so from the position of KNOWING you can feel good immediately after dealing with them. The fear of the fear of the fear is what keeps most people behind.
So, I hope that clears up why to suppress, when to suppress, and how to suppress.
Click here to read the original conversation from the comments section. There is a ton of extra information in there, including creating “rhythms” in concentration to get the pleasure, rapture and absorption elements working properly. I also recommend scrolling up to the beginning and reading my replies to the other comments — there is a lot of ground covered there.
Concentration Meditation with the Breath as the Object
When I originally wrote the concentration meditation guide, it included a section specifically instructing the reader NOT to use the breath as the object. The reasons for this were that practically every other type of meditation out there uses the breath in some way or other. For example, “watching the breath while allowing thoughts to arise and not being attached to them” is the kind of very basic, low-level insight meditation you might find when picking up a copy of Cosmo, or when typing “how to meditate” into Google. Not to discredit this type of meditation — it’s actually awesome, and would solve many of the world’s problems overnight if everybody did it. In fact, I am adding it to my set of basic guides shortly.
However, that is not concentration meditation.
When reading the guide, I wanted everyone to be absolutely clear about what they are and are not doing. I knew putting the breath in there as a potential object would get a lot of people confused because it would make them start thinking of those other meditations that use the breath in some way.
In the end, I deleted that section and left the breath in there as a potential object for concentration meditation because the breath is still one of the best objects around, and I have many students using it extremely successfully.
To use the breath in concentration meditation, I recommend that rather than “watching the breath”, you instead become the breath.
The breath is one of the easiest objects through which to get pleasure waves and rapture, because you can synchronize your breathing to the pleasure waves, thus helping them build (in fact they initially start towards the end of each out-breath, helping you find them).
Concentration meditation is all about creating a smooth “flow” of attention, like a sine wave. There is rhythm in attention (a kind of regular “pull and release” on the object), rhythm in breathing, and rhythm in pleasure. Using the breath is an easy way to sync all these things up.
In practice I will tend to find all these factors synchronizing to the breath anyway, even when using a visual item or sound as my object. This is how “absorption” in an object is artificially created in concentration meditation. Let’s say I’m using a coin as my object. Because my attention is moving onto the coin in waves, when my breathing and pleasurable feelings in my body begin to sync up with that attention it will seem as though I am “feeling” the coin — like I “am” it — because my body is having a visceral response to focusing on the coin! The coin will become entirely fascinating at this point. It may start to move or sway a little, visually (the “waves” of this distortion will be in sync with the pleasure, the attention, the breath, and everything else). When you notice that rhythm, you can begin to make the rhythm as regular, smooth and flowing as possible, like a perfect sine wave. This is how you create “artificial solidity” in your objects. At this point the coin would become ridiculously detailed, smooth, shiny, and pure — “more real than real”. I was eating some ice cream once with golden syrup on it. I decided to do concentration meditation on it just to see what would happen. The bubbles in the syrup became so big, so clear, and so “real”, that it felt like I was actually “in” the bubble! It is easy to see why concentration meditation has the potential to become endlessly fascinating and addictive in this respect.
This utter fascination — a total letting go of everything other than the object, and your total wilful absorption in the object — is how the extremely positive mindset gets written to the mind. I think that, however you are doing concentration at the moment, you can turn it up a level. Assuming that you intrinsically “know” how to do such things, and that they will arise if you let them, is a great way to approach it.
I will be adding all this stuff to the guide in its next version. I thank you all for your feedback — it has been most useful! Any more questions, keep them coming.