Quotes on Meditation and Mindfulness – Related to Thoughts and Thinking

Here are some quotes on meditation (黙想 mokusou) and mindfulness with regards to thoughts and thinking – below.  They are organized as follows:

References provided at the end.  I’ll likely update this page as I come across more quotes.

A side comment:  for those who may wonder how meditation and mindfulness can help them in kendo, martial arts, sports or other areas of life.  I certainly wasn’t aware of its value for many years.  For example, I believe it can improve one’s performance under potentially challenging events such as a shinsa or shiai.  The mind may generate a torrent of thoughts – some related to the four sicknesses (shikai)What if I… fail/lose, look bad, fight a very strong player?  I should have… practiced more, slept more, ate less, warmed up more.  I am not… strong enough, fast enough and so on.

When unaware of such thoughts and when sucked into thinking such thoughts, one can become tight, anxious, nervous or fearful.  Which can lead to poor performance.  However, when aware of and able to see such thoughts (and thoughts in general) without identifying with them, I believe that one can remain more calm, centered and ready to perform well.  I have found meditation and mindfulness invaluable for shinsa, shiai and many areas in life including relationships and handling setbacks.


Gil Fronsdal 1 [Fronsdal_ThoughtsIntro]

  • In mindfulness, we are not stopping thoughts as much as overcoming any preoccupation we have with them.
  • Mindfulness is not thinking about things. (It is not “meditating on” some topic, as people often say.)  It  is  a  non-discursive  observation  of  our  life  in  all  its  aspects.
  • In those moments when thinking predominates, mindfulness is the clear and silent awareness that we are thinking.
  • I found it helpful and relaxing when someone said, “For the purpose of meditation, nothing is particularly worth thinking about.” Thoughts can come and go as they wish, and the meditator does not need to become involved with them. We are not interested in engaging in the content of our thoughts; mindfulness of thinking is simply recognizing we are thinking.
  • Thoughts are a huge part of our lives. Many of us spend much time inhabiting the cognitive world of stories and ideas.

  • Mindfulness practice won’t stop the thinking, but it will help prevent us from compulsively following thoughts that have appeared. This will help us become more balanced, so our physical, emotional and cognitive sides all work together as a whole.

Gil Fronsdal 2 – from a Talk on “Mindfulness of Thoughts” [Fronsdal_Thoughts]

So many gems from this transcribed talk:

  • You can’t stop your thoughts, but you don’t have to necessarily pick them up, get involved in them.
  • “Thoughting” is what the mind does, it produces thoughts. You can’t stop the mind from “thoughting”. But thinking is when you get involved in your thought. Then a train of associated thinking goes on, one after the other, you get involved and caught up in that world.
  • So what we’re trying to do is let the thoughts come up and just let them go by.  It can seem rather impersonal, maybe a little bit uninteresting, or very strange, because some people don’t even know how much they are living in the world of thoughts, and how much they mediate (note: not meditate), or see, or understand their life, through the filter of their thinking.
  • They say that fish don’t know, don’t see the water they swim in.  Humans don’t see the thinking that they swim in.
  • Some of you are probably a victim of your thinking mind, it takes you wherever it wants to go. Partly the reason for that is that some people believe that who they are, is their thinking. Their identity is so closely tied to what they think about, that it’s a completely foreign idea that they should be something different than their thoughts.
  • If they stopped thinking, who are they going to be?  If you don’t tell yourself stories about who you are, then who are you?  It can be a little bit challenging.
  • An important part of mindfulness is to really see the phenomenon of thinking.  We’re not at war with thinking, we’re not necessarily trying to push it away or say it’s bad. But some of them are painful. We’re trying to see it from the vantage point of the riverbank, as opposed to being in it or on it. From the vantage point of the riverbank, looking at the thinking, we might start noticing things we haven’t noticed before about it. They are different than the content, the ideas, the thoughts or the images.


  • Every time you come back from thinking you let go of it and come back to the riverbank.Those movements are very powerful, they only take a moment, they don’t look so dramatic, but they are actually very big movements of the mind. They are beginning to break old habits.
  • People have spent a lifetime of developing a habit of just letting themselves just ride the currents of their thoughts freely without any kind of choice.  Just going along.
  • No wonder when you sit down and meditate, the mind wanders off in thoughts so easily, because it’s had so much freedom over a lifetime.
  • Relearning and breaking the old habits goes relatively fast compared to how much time you spent freely thinking. We expect it to be by tomorrow, but it takes more than a couple of days.
  • Every time you notice, “I’m thinking”, every time you let go of thought, is a very meaningful moment, it has tremendous impact on breaking that habit.
  • If you’re here and the thinking is there, then you’re free of it to some degree.
  • If you are the thinking, you think you are the thought, then you’re not outside of it, you’re not on the riverbank.
  • So it’s a very clear cognizance that thinking is going on.  Sometimes this is enough for thinking to just evaporate. Part of the reason for that is that in order for thoughts to turn into thinking and persistent thinking, there has to be fuel for them to put energy into them. … In a way, you’re not fueling it anymore, you’re not involved in it anymore.  If you’re not involved, it dissipates usually, if it’s relatively mild.
  • For the purposes of meditation generally we are almost never interested in the content – in the story which goes with the thinking. We don’t focus on it, this is for other times and places, not for meditation.

Gil Fronsdal 3 – From a Talk on “Freedom from Thinking” [Fronsdal_Freedom]

Many more gems from this ~38 min. video.

  • [11:03]  Most people live in the layer of discursive thinking (internal conversations, commentary, analyzing, contemplating, reflecting, planning,…).  Wisdom begins to operate when we cannot be caught up in discursive thinking.  Discursive thinking, analyzing, contemplating is an important part of human life.  But eating is an important part of human life.  But you are not expected to be eating all the time. 
    • [11:28] Discursive thinking, contemplating, reflecting is an important part of human life but if that’s all you do, if that’s the only vehicle by which you understand yourself and your life, it’s quite truncated, quite limited.
  • [11:50]  In terms of thinking, one of the first tasks in  mindfulness is to start appreciating the kinds of thinking that are operating from within you and to realize that there are different capacities, ways of thinking, cognizing our experience.
    • [12:02]  In meditation, people can learn how rewarding or satisfying it is to cease all the discursive thinking, to stop all that kind of distracted thoughts, imaginary thoughts, thinking about the future, thinking about the past, figuring things out.  And how peaceful it is to settle down to just a simple recognition note:  there’s a sound, there’s a sound of a car, just a very simple, here’s a thought, here’s an itch.
    • [12:32] And part of the reason it feels so satisfying is that with discursive thinking we tend to get involved with it.  We get involved with it energetically.  We get involved emotionally.  There’s reactions.  The world tends to get more limited and narrow and contracted the more tightly we’re wrapped up around our discursive thoughts.  As we begin to free ourselves from this strong gravitational pull into discursive thinking, the mind tends to have more space, more open and the feeling of spaciousness, openness, ease, peace, of thought just kind of being there without any hook to them.  Just very simple.  A thought arises, an idea arises and memory arises.  But nothing’s done with it.  We don’t pick it up.  We don’t react to it.  We don’t make conclusions about it.  They’re just there. 
  • [13:28] And in that simplicity, there’s a lot of ease – much more satisfying.  Also, then we see more clearly actually what’s going on. 
    • So, to want something – to want the red car – to have a thought “I want a red car” and if the next thing you know is that you’re at the car dealer buying a red car and you didn’t see anything in between.  You don’t remember what happened in between. Then the discursive world and this desire kind of took over. 
    • But if you sat there and saw that ‘desiring a red car’ bubble up in the mind and you recognize it:  there’s a thought of desiring, a thought of red cars.  In that simple layer of just recognizing what it is, there can be much more space to leave it alone, to not get involved.
    • And then the wisdom of the mind can operate and there can be a recognition in the mind: “You know, I don’t need to have a red car.  I have a perfectly good car.  I bet the desire for the red car had more to do with not the red car but something else about it.”
  • [14:57]  If we can begin saying, name and see: “Well, that’s what’s happening now.  That’s what’s happening now.  That’s what’s happening now.”  And that’s a hard skill to learn because of the tremendous wave that we pulled into discursive thinking.
    • [15:15]  If you look at your mind churning away in its thoughts and concerns, you can ask yourself: “How much authority are you giving your thoughts?” or “How much authority are they claiming?”  That ‘this’ is important.  ‘This’ is true.   That the place to be with your life energy right now is to be with these thoughts.  “How much do you invest in your thoughts and your discursive thinking and thinking about things?”
    • [15:55]  How much credence do we give to the worry that’s part of the thinking, the fear?  And we really believe that fear and the worry that’s there.  This is a very important issue to look at how we relate to our thinking, our discursive thoughts because there’s some psychologists who think that the some of the leading causes for things like depression, anxiety, despair for many people has to do with the nature of their thinking, the discursive thoughts.
  • [28:03] Meditation is kind of  like a laboratory or gym or something where you learn how to work with your mind.   And then once you’ve learned how to work with it, you can start working with it outside meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

  • You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
  • It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not ‘you’ or ‘reality.’
  • Most of the time, if you’re not really paying attention, you’re some place else.
  • Awareness is not the same as thought.  It lies beyond thinking, … Awareness is more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see and know our thought as thought rather than getting caught up in them as reality.
  • Too much of the education system orients students toward become better thinkers, but there is almost no focus on our capacity to pay attention and cultivate awareness.
  • There is a lot of different ways to talk about mindfulness, but what it really means is awareness.

Eckhart Tolle

  • The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.
  • All problems are illusions of the mind.
  • Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.
  • Whenever you step out of the noise of thinking, that is meditation, and a different state of consciousness arises.
  • The mental suffering you create is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is.  On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment.  The intensity of the suffering depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment.
  • To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer the universe.

Ramana Maharshi

  • You have to ask yourself the question “Who am I?”  This investigation will lead in the end to the discovery of something within you which is behind the mind.  Solve that great problem and you will solve all other problems.
  • The question “Who am I?” is not really meant to get an answer, the question “Who am I?” is meant to dissolve the questioner.
  • Our identification with the mind and body is the chief reason for our failure to know our self as we truly are.
  • If one’s mind has peace, the whole world will appear peaceful.


  • Protect yourself…. from your own thoughts.
  • Put your thoughts to sleep, do not let them cast a shadow over the moon of your heart.  Let go of thinking
  • Be empty of worrying.  Think of who created thought!
  • Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.


  • You only lose what you cling to.
  • Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
  • Peace comes from within.
  • Attachment leads to suffering.


  • Remember, when we meet, you are meeting yourself through me. – Fiona Stolze from her reply on her About page dated Sept 10, 2012.
  • We are not our thoughts
    • Or other variants:  You are not your thoughts.  I am not the thoughts.  The thoughts are not you / me.
  • I had to agree with the Roshi, who then explained that the problem with thinking was not thinking per se, but thinking that was stuck. – Suzuki Roshi from [Brown].
  • When we find ourselves constantly worrying or stuck in an eddy of repeating fear, insecurities, doubts and intransigent beliefs about ourselves and others.  These thoughts serve to build and maintain chronic body tensions. – Donna Farhi from [Warren]
  • At the beginning there may be a sense of calm and peace.  But after a while your mind will seem even worse than before.  Even though your mind may seem worse, actually it is better. … The reason why your mind seems worse after meditating for a while is that your emotional problems are coming to the surface. – Lama Gursam [Gursam_ImportanceMeditation]


[Brown] Edward Espe Brown, “Thoughts on Thinking During Meditation, and Why it’s Okay – Knowing what to do with your wandering thoughts is perhaps the greatest challenge for meditators,” YogaJournal.com, Aug 28, 2007.

[Fronsdal_Thoughts] Gil Fronsdal, “Mindfulness of Thoughts (Week 4)” (Transcription of a Talk), Insight Meditation Center, Jan 30, 2008.

[Fronsdal_ThoughtsIntro] Gil Fronsdal,  “Introductory Course in Mindfulness Meditation, 4th Week – Mindfulness of Thoughts,” Insight Meditation Center (PDF, 2 pages).

[Fronsdal_Freedom] “Gil Fronsdal:  Freedom from Thinking,” insightmed, YouTube Video, May 14, 2018 (37:53 mins).

[Gursam_ImportanceMeditation] Lama Gursam, “The Importance of Meditation,” LamaGursam.org

[Warren] Dennis Warren, “Thinking and Thoughts – The Role of Thinking in Meditation,” Guiding Instructor, Sacramento Insight Meditation.







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