When can thoughts be helpful in meditation? How can we learn to trust them?

It’s not helpful to see all thinking as ego and demonize it. We can simply take thinking as thinking and let it point beyond itself to an intuitive sense of what is right for us.

A student asks:

There have been many things I have noticed but the main thing I want to raise is about ego. I see how it is constantly trying to take charge. At this stage, although sometimes there is a taste of something different, more quiet, more almost joyful, I am aware that a lot of my meditation experience is coloured and influenced by my ego.

Lama Shenpen replies:

Ego is thinking. When you notice the effort to control things and make things be how they should be, notice that is thinking and as such quite amazing. Let it go but don’t chase it away. Let it be and kind of let it impress you. It is so persistent and has such a ‘mind of its own’ but what is it?


I am a bit wary of talking about it as ego as if it were some kind of truly existent demon that is lurking there spoiling everything, a demon one has to take seriously and get rid of.

Lama Shenpen:

Of course, there is a sense in which one has to take it seriously. The thinking processes arising from grasping on to ‘me’ as central and important are causing all our suffering. It is only thinking and it is all thinking based on a fear reaction to facing reality. The fear has caused a turning away and a great deal of confusion. It is not some evil demon lurking there that is other than the nature of reality itself. So you don’t have to keep fending off this demon. It’s thinking and thinking is marvellous. It is magic. So you can relax.


When I have a sense of being distracted, I assume it is my ego that says ‘Let that go, return to just sitting, just the breath’.

Lama Shenpen:

That is why I think it’s not very helpful to think that all thinking is necessarily ego or grasping at self. If every thought was ego what you are saying would be true.

But actually there is thinking that is just thinking. Actually it is the thinking itself that is what truly is but we can never catch the thinking because it’s not separate from awareness itself. In itself thinking is not a problem, but it bends back on itself and gets into knots. So it is important to recognise thinking as thinking and then gradually come to understand its intrinsic nature.


The question is, how do I trust this voice?

Lama Shenpen:

Just be very simple about it. There is a thought that thinks ‘let it go’ and there is the intuitive sense that this means something and an intuitive response that lets you do it. That is simply responsiveness and well-being, a sense of what would feel ‘right’. Somehow when you get the right touch it is not really thinking. It is before you think, or perhaps it is what your thinking leads you to do. It is the thinking pointing beyond itself. It is quite magical really.


Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training