Meditation: Recognising ‘the watcher’ as thinking too

“While you are lost in thought in meditation sessions, you are not awake. Then, suddenly you come to and remember you had intended to keep the attention on the immediate experience of the out-breath. When you wake up to the fact that you are thinking, it is a moment of waking up and you are back. But it happened spontaneously. You didn’t do it really.

Now that you have left the thought and come back to the breath, it is important not to spoil the simplicity of that moment by thinking, even ever so slightly, ‘Damn, I wandered’. Instead, be as gentle as you can and as aware as you can be of the movement from being lost in thinking to waking up, noticing the essential nature of the thought, connecting to the heart, returning to being fully present with the breath and opening into space.

When we talk about meditation in terms of letting go of thoughts, it can seem as if it is a matter of setting oneself up as an observer of one’s mind and to root out thinking. This is a misunderstanding of the whole process.

Setting up a watcher in this way perpetuates our false sense of what we are and what our experience is. The observer might well be well intentioned, but the problem is that it is heavy-handed and believes too much in itself. It doesn’t see that it is itself another case of thinking.

Do not adopt a forceful attitude, as if you could become enlightened through sheer willpower. That kind of willpower is egocentric and controlling. It is the watcher divided from the experience trying to make it be the way it thinks it should be. When you find that kind of watcher-mentality has taken over, which often happens, turn towards it and recognise it as thinking. Let it go. It is not another part of you that is oppressing you.”

Lama Shenpen Hookham

This is an extract from Lama Shenpen’s book ‘Heart of Meditation’. It is the first course in the Living the Awakened Heart Training and the book is sent to those who join the training. It is also available from Amazon.

The Living the Awakened Heart Training is a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, 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

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