Home Discussion Forum What to tell a beginning meditator when they can't detect their thinking?

What to tell a beginning meditator when they can't detect their thinking?

A person told me that they had just started meditating (vipassana) and then they told me that the whole time they were sitting in meditation, it was like they were totally quiet. Like being in the zone, without any thoughts at all. I guess it’s like that because the person is totally identified with one’s thinking thus can’t detect them. So then I wonder what to tell that person if anything? Will the meditation still do it’s magical work, even if the person can’t detect the thinking? I guess this might be the case, because at least sitting in meditation, regularily each day relieves some stress and healing is going on whether they can see their thoughts or not. I realize that if I tell him he’s not doing it right, or something along those lines, then he might get discouraged. It’s been so long since I first started, I don’t recall how it was the first times.
Phae: Counting breaths is what occurred to me as well, because when one looses count then one can know it happened because one got lost in thinking.
Tamara S.: I think the idea to ask him questions to point him towards being the witness of thoughts vs. being identified with them is good. Your comment gives creative ideas. Because one is so used to doing based on what one is telling oneself, then even very simple meditations like ‘watching one’s breath’, are done with one’s mind. I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out, busy as hell…. I’m scanning my foot, now I’m scanning my torso, etc. It gives me the general idea to suggest to the person instead of watching one’s breath, that one focuses on feeling one’s breath. Anything which can be more clearly said that focuses the person into using their inner sensing capabilities to feel something happening using the outside sensing capabilities, I think would be helpful.
damayanti373: I agree with you, that simpler meditations with a strong focal point are better for beginners. When I tried to do a meditation that was more like vipassana, then this gave me too much free reign. I start to remember that I probably sat in meditation for many months, without getting much result. It was after I switched to a 4 count, that it started working better for me. Later I stayed open to trying other types of meditation and eventually developed my own unique way of doing it that worked the best for me. I think people process information differently, and thus why there are so many different meditations. I like this meditation from swami muktananda, it’s very simple , easy to do and I see that the effect is that the inner hearing and inner seeing is engaged thus quieting the talking one. It was just recently I came across the name: Swami Muktananda, I will look him up next.
Kiteeze: Yes, I think your thoughts are pretty much on the mark. He told me he was in this blank state, because he wants to believe he’s doing it right. The rest of what you write brings up another question for me:
Can we be the observer of our thinking at the same time we are engaged in thinking? Or is it more like ‘we are lost in thoughts’, then come back to awareness realizing we were just doing that?


  1. Tell him to count breaths. Yes, he will still benefit & in time even come to recognize his thoughts. I have had this happen to others & I did not correct them, but it did not take long for them to come to me & tell me that they had been in error. Blessings.

  2. Telling them to count their breaths is a good practice but may also interfere if taken too far. I would also, when in conversation with this person, ask questions about their experience both while meditating and in daily life. Questions such as how long is the stillness between your thoughts? When is the thinking mind most active? When is it more still? When he watches his thoughts passing through does he find it is his tendency to believe them? Do the thoughts come in related clusters or do they appear random? Any question that focuses his attention on witnessing thought rather than identification. Questions that draw his attention to stillness or silence can also be helpful. Continued meditation will open his awareness on its own but the questions give you something to do that may help him focus his intention.

  3. For beginning meditators it is good for them to know to follow their breath. (If they are not paying attention to their thoughts, then their attention is elsewhere) By putting full attention on the breath, alonside using a mantra, then a deeper meditation is experienced. The in breath can be “Ham” and the outbreath “Sa” (This is known as ajapajapa mantra using the natural sound that the breath makes. The space between the breaths are widended as meditation is deepened. Thoughts will naturally subside as this process is developed.)

  4. It makes me wonder if the person isn’t trying to tell you what they think you want to hear? What they think is right.
    So many people have the idea that meditation means absence of thought. Beginners often become very scared because they find this impossible.
    Most beginners find a collage of thoughts will flit through their minds when meditating . It puts them off because surely the mind ought to be blank if you’re doing it right?
    But really, meditation is detachment from the current of thought. It is like being one of those insects, a water boatman, we call them, who surf the currents of a river and watch all the debris float by. They observe; but aren’t sucked into the current. Once in a while, there might be something tasty they focus on. Usually they just watch it all flow away.
    I also like to think that thoughts are like butterflies; flitting here and there in our minds. Meditation is watching them dance and fly and letting them pass on, out of our minds to fly in the universe. The most beautiful or dramatic butterfly will remain; sometimes two of them and these represent the most important thoughts we can allow ourselves to look at in more depth.
    I myself can only meditate like that when I am swimming! I find it impossible to sit still, but I swim slowly and automatically and find it has the same effect – the junk begins to dissolve from my brain and dissolve in the water, until my mind becomes really clean, but never empty. A little nugget of gold remains.
    You could try asking detailed questions to the beginner, as a previous answerer suggested. I think that was a great answer, but it is hard not to scare the beginner further by asking too much! I am sure you could do it gently and nonaggressively though.
    You could first ask them what they think meditation ought to be for them. See what they answer.
    Maybe you have a beginner who is incredibly enlightened, they can make their minds go totally blank.
    Or you have someone so tensed up they are trying to impress you and fool themselves too. A serious student for you then to work on.
    If you stand back and soak up any of the advice useful to you here from all the answers you get, you’ll get an image of a collective mind! It will help you feel your way around this and work it out yourself, in the best way!
    I know you can do it!


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