Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Beyond Content Of Thought

--by Ram Dass (Sep 18, 2017)

Instead of trying so hard to get out of the shadow, the dark, which I think actually reinforces the shadow and its reality, just do your practices. See, if somebody says, “I’m having these terrible thoughts, and I don’t know why, will you help me understand why?” I’d tell them that I’d rather sit with them and help them to follow their breath. The breath has no content to it at all. It’s just breath. It’s better to strengthen their centering, the quieting, the presence, than to keep strengthening the problem, which keeps being reinforced when you work on it directly. It’s a very delicate situation. I don’t want to undercut times when it’s really appropriate to work on thoughts as content, but for the most part, the focusing on the content of thoughts is, to me, a last strategy.

It is a much better strategy to focus on  the mechanics of thought, rather than the content of thought. Do you hear that distinction?

Now I can go to a therapist, and they can say "Let's talk about your childhood and where did it all come from…" That’s dealing with the content of the thoughts. Or, instead, I could choose to just see them as thoughts, not focusing on the content so much, looking for answers. They’re just thoughts! Put them in the category of thoughts, not what they’re about, they’re just thoughts, and it’s my major game in meditation to extricate awareness from identification with thought or with clinging to it. In order to do that you go into your meditation practice, which in some cases might be taking one thought, like following the breath.

What will then come up is, “But what am I gonna do about this relationship?” Thought appears, and I hear the teacher say, “Return to your breath.” Go back to breathing in, breathing out, then another one comes and says, “God my life is a mess!” Now at that point, you can leave, call a therapist, and say, "Let’s deal with why my life is a mess," or you say, "Ok, go back to the breath. Sure your life is a mess. Go back to the breath."

It’s just rising-falling, rising-falling, and now, in other words, you can use the meditative practice to extricate yourself from identification with thoughts, whatever they are, shadowy or not. There are some thoughts that you won’t get rid of that way, because they’re sort of in a nest or web of stuff. Then, you’ll approach them in terms of content, but my strategy is to go for the mechanics first, and then go to the content later on, when it’s really ripe for the picking.

Excerpted from Exploring the Mechanics of Thought.

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Previous Reflections:

On Sep 15, 2017 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

Realizing thoughts are just thoughts and they do not need to define me or even be "reality" is freeing. Thoughts change even within a day as our feelings change and evolve: whether those feelings are about ourselves or others. Reflecting on this for myself: I noticed today that my thoughts are jumbled and tangled today, partly due perhaps to a slight cold and feeling a little under the weather. I noticed that I was judging myself about things more harshly today. In recognizing these are just thoughts and not trying to "fix them" or deeply analyze, but knowing "this too shall pass" I am able to sit in breath and rather focus on that breath, in and out and relax. I've also been introduced recently to EFT, tapping and wow, it also helps with realizing thoughts are simply thoughts and they are not permanent. I hope these thoughts are clear ;) <3 

On Sep 15, 2017 Rajesh wrote:

I find this passage very nuanced but very revealing at the same time. Ramdass seems to suggest that we need to study the both the content of thought and its mechanics, but we need to be skillful about which to do when. I am still wrestling with this in my own meditation practice and I do find that "extricating awareness from though", as Ramdass puts it, is key to understanding. For the most part, focusing on content keeps you in an endless web of thoughts, without resolution. For example, if one finds that a set of thoughts are creating fear response in oneself, it is because there is awareness that these thoughts are creating fear. For me, this is the mechanics of thought. If one goes about solving the "problem", that is focusing on the content. 

It's also interesting that Ramdass suggests that focusing on the breath helps in extricating awareness from thought, but is still a thought. 

On Sep 17, 2017 david doane wrote:

 You can go to a so called psychotherapist who gives poor advice, and you can go to a so called spiritual leader who gives poor advice.  Ram Dass sure has his anti therapist biases.  My suggestion is consult with others, listen to self.  The language I prefer is focus on process rather than focus on mechanics -- what they each are referring to is probably much the same.  The point is to get back to healthy process, engage in healthy mechanics of living, be in the present, let go of content/problems/agendas, and trust that good will happen.  Focus on problem content tends to reinforce it and gets me spinning my wheels going no where.  Dong the right action, as the eight fold path suggests, and not occupying myself with trying to control outcome, works best.  I am happiest and the most good happens when I live that way.  When I am solidly grounded in healthy process and mechanics, the content issue falls into place and sort of takes care of itself and is ripe for the picking.

On Sep 17, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 When I identify myself with my thoughts, I become my thoughts. Thoughts create feelings and emotions and actions and my character. If I do not dis-identify myself with the  mental and emotional world I  create in my mind, I get trapped by my self-created trappings causing ups and downs of mental and emotional states. It is up to me to free myself from my from the bondage I have created or to remain stuck with it.

One of the ways of reducing or working through my suffering is the practice of mindfulness.I have found practicing mindfulness very beneficial to me. Breathing in and out keeps me grounded , steadfast  and composed.It creates space  in me to let my thoughts come and go like waves and makes my mind quiet and clear. This is the mechanics I use to work on myself.

When I do not apply mindfulness, I resort to habitual and conditioned patterns  of reacting to the contents of my thoughts which perpetuate and strengthen the cycle of  my suffering. I run a mental commentary of finding fault either with myself or with others. What I have been learning from my mindfulness practice is what Baba Ramdass calls dis-identifying my self with  from the contents of my thoughts. I let the thoughts come and go as I breathe in and out.Such mindfulness practice helps me to respond rather than to react. Practicing mindfulness consistently helps me to relate to myself and to others with freshness, empathy and compassion.

May we find time to practice mindfulness for walking of the wholesome path.


Jagdish P dave

On Sep 18, 2017 Tan wrote:

The article is the reminder for being captured by thoughts. When I am captured by thought the authomatic reactions are arizing and overwhelming me... Dis-identification process is not easy.

Meditation is not always helping when the amigdala is in action... What does help me?
The Work of Byron Katie - see

We created the board game - the W Game - and using it for the Awareness Group weekly. I can work in the Group on the suggested belief (doing preventive work) or the situation & thought which is bothering me... every time I play - using 4 simple questions and turn arounds - I am awakening = dis-identificating from the thought (every time it looks like a surprise!)  Then during day-to-day life it becomes easy and easy to wake up to reality - dis-identificating. 

On Sep 19, 2017 Rosemarie wrote:

 I have used 3 techniques that have helped me recenter quickly. The first is, to say l STOP/Shhhhhh (to self or outlou d) to interrupt incoming thoughts, hence Amigdala overload. Repeat STOP/Shhhhhh until it dissipates. Then go to a soothing place in your mind eye and breathe. The second is, to STAY in the thought/feeling, don't run away, just breath long and slow over and over. It's just energy that needs to dissipate. And third is my yoga practice. Some days I skip it and others I do 2 or more back to back. It's a meditation in slow movements. And every 2 weeks my therapist helps me stay centered by letting me sort out loud through the reality or imagined of my thoughts and feelings. It's all a practice for mind, body and spirit.

On Sep 19, 2017 Maryanne wrote:

 I believe the mechanics and content of thought have very different qualities.  Is practice to discern these different qualities?  Observing the quality of mechanics has an immediate release of pressure and attachment.  This can become a joyful practice, this awareness, even filled with humor! . . (the cosmic laugh?)  Challenge is to stay in faith and intention . . which requires constant, but not obsessive practice.  As our generous wisdom teacher RD has said above, it is a delicate situation.  But doesn't it build on itself with attention?

On Sep 19, 2017 Shuka. D wrote:

 Thoughts and thinking the same but different. A thought rises and gives
way to Choice . Do I choose to engage this thought or let it drift by.
Thinking is the content , dwelling on something which has the ability 
to move one out of the presence of now and into the realms
of our conditioning behaviours is never very useful. Thus awareness is essential for choice.
Awarenece is cultivated through a regular practice of meditation.

On Sep 19, 2017 Bansi Pandya wrote:

 Structure of Thought: Thought has created the center as permanent entity and it attributes its origin and truth to itself. It also attributes perception as perceiver and feelings to it like me and mine executive hold everything together; if center falls apart then my world is also falls apart (my world is my experiences, knowledge). If there is total perception then thought has no place and perception is action in Now. 
The self cannot act. So when I say “I sleep” or “I grow” or “I breathe” I need to be aware of the incoherence inherent in language which makes me believe that the self grows or sleeps or breathes.

We are a product of thought (individual and collective). If we are more than thought we will not discover that with thought. This thought has to end for that understanding beyond thought to happen in Unitary Perception.

On Sep 20, 2017 Joseph Kokomo wrote:

 I quit drinking in 1990, which in many ways was the beginning of me waking up.  In 2004, I started vipassana meditation and deeply focusing on art, meditation and 'thoughts', even when not in formal meditation.  
The sentiment of this post is nice and I agree with it, to a degree. But I know, from LOTS of therapy, group support and spiritual groups, that some people will use spiritual 'axioms' and principles as a way to avoid spending time and paying attention to another person, which I feel is detrimental to people's feelings of self worth.  If the time out to watch the breath is truly to help the person, fine.  But if it's used as an excuse to quiet the person, I disagree. I am a firm believer in the power of listening.  And the 'guru' who is compassionate enough to listen with an open heart is helping.  I know a lot of people probably thought of me as 'high maintenance' because I talked all the time and it seemed like nothing was sinking in - believe me, it was. Stream entry happened in 2016 - and I am forever grateful to the people who listened to the narrative I was so attached to...THAT was part of my waking up....reflecting on the sacrifice so many people gave, listening to me. 

On Sep 21, 2017 Bradley wrote:

I think that my thoughts often get in the way of my life, just as Thich Nhat Hanh said in Being Peace how, in Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle to understanding. I can see in my own life how the content of my thoughts is an obstacle to just being.

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