Ajahn Chah said that when watching the breath, it’s important to understand that our thinking doesn’t have to stop. This is a very useful point. Often when we’re watching the breath, we get lost in a train of thought and eventually remind ourselves to come back to the breath. In many guided meditations, we often hear the phrase, “Come back to the breath.” We can start to feel that thinking is a problem, as if there is a battle between thinking and the breath. It can become unpleasant because we’re fighting against our thinking. Rather than battling like that, we might instead imagine that our thoughts are like fog. We can be aware of the fog of thought, and when the breath becomes more prominent we can observe the breath.
Another way to look at it is that the breath is always there, waiting to be observed. We look through thoughts to see the breath like we look through a fog to see a light post or beacon. Rather than feeling we have to stop the thinking, we try to see through it. It’s okay for thinking to be there if we have this attitude of trying to look through it. Observing in this way, we’re not compelled to give thoughts a lot of attention; we’re not interested in them. If we are able to observe our meditation experience from this point of view, it’s easy to remember that our efforts in meditating aren’t for the purpose of thinking, but rather that they’re aimed at connecting with the breath. By having this attitude of looking through our thoughts, it can help us feel more harmonious toward them. By contrast, when thoughts arise, if we respond with, Not again! I have to watch the breath, then we have a sense of failing. This defeats our aim of cultivating ease and contentment.
In daily life as well, we often perceive thoughts as a problem we have to get rid of, and the same attitude can arise with the other experiences in our lives. We have certain emotions, moods, and interactions we want to get rid of because we perceive them as unhelpful, irritating, and annoying. We get into a battle between what we like and what we don’t like. Instead, we can perceive experiences to be like fog. When we see them this way, there’s nothing we have to suffer over. Ultimately, we will understand that there is no experience or feeling we have to hold onto or be afraid of in this world, in this life. If we have our hearts set on peace, truth, contentment, and virtue, then with that as a refuge, we don’t have to fear anything. When we commit ourselves to these principles and values, everything we experience throughout the day is easier to let go of. We can see through it all.
Everything becomes transparent in the light of this attitude—at least it does when we can access that attitude. To do that, we have to put it into words we can repeat to ourselves so that we can come back to this perception of seeing through the fog of thought and experience. This can be as simple as telling ourselves, What I am being distracted by is just thought or some other experience, nothing more, and it is okay for it to be here in my mind while I am following the breath. This is the way the mind can settle and become clearer and more peaceful. We should try to see through everything in this way. When we do this with thoughts, they tend to subside. Thinking becomes less problematic—the breath becomes more evident. Clarity and peace arise.
_This reflection by Ajahn Yatiko is from_ **_[Beginning Our Day, Volume One](/books/beginning-our-day-volume-one)_**