Awareness vs Internal monologue

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Iliad » Thu Jun 20, 2013 10:11 pm

Hey there,


I'm someone who always 'uses' internal monologue to express my thoughts or make my ideas clearer (for myself). In my head I'm talking to myself, because hearing ideas in my head helps me to make decisions and it gives structure to my thoughts. Without an internal monologue I don't seem to be able to structure my thoughts properly, and I have the feeling I lose a lot of 'brain power'. I'm sure a lot of people do this so I never really cared about it, until now. I've been practicing vipassana for some time. When I meditate, I'm fully aware of my surroundings and because I don't really think while meditating, there is no internal monologue. As soon as I'm finished meditating I start thinking again and my internal monologue returns. As a result, my awareness disappears. It's like I have to choose between being fully aware, and being able to think. My question is: how to combine thought with awareness? I want to get to the level where I can be fully aware all the time in daily life. Most people who practice vipassana don't seem to have this problem, but maybe that's because they think in a different way. So... any thoughts? ;)
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Jun 20, 2013 10:55 pm

I'm very rarely without thoughts altogether. When I'm sitting, the mind usually settles down and becomes pretty quiet but even then streams of thought will start up spontaneously, before I notice that, and 'return to the breath'. During day-to-day activities, I have an active mind. I can think and evaluate, weigh things up, and so on. I'm in quite a technically demanding job, so I have to think about what needs doing. But what has changed as a result of meditation is that thoughts and thinking don't have the same kind of power over me that they used to have. I recognize thoughts as thoughts. It's like 'oh, you again. I know you.' Whereas it seems to me, without that element of meditative awareness, thoughts tend to seem a lot more real, almost like they're real in themselves. I guess that is why people with dissociation problems 'hear voices' - their thoughts appear so real that they seem like other people. But in my case, I just note that thinking is happening, but I realise that it is just thinking, just the activities of mind. I think that is one aspect of the detachment/equanimity that develops through meditation practice.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Jinzang » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:01 am

Just be patient and continue to meditate. Seeing the empty and aware nature of thoughts is actually a high level of attainment. Before then your thoughts will decrease and awareness increase, but there will be some sense that thoughts obstruct awareness, as you have noticed.
Lamrim, lojong, and mahamudra are the unmistaken path.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:38 am

Since you say you are practicing Vipassana, and assuming you are working with the Anapanasati Sutta, I find the following approach to work well for me in calming thoughts, and until you have really experienced true tranquilisation of your thoughts, be careful not to judge whether keeping thoughts is better than not keeping them.
"How, Ananda, is concentration by mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated so that it fulfills the four establishments of mindfulness? Here, Ananda, a monk, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down. Having folded his legs crosswise, straightened his body, and set up mindfulness in front of him, just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. "Breathing in long, he knows: 'I breathe in long'; or breathing out long, he knows: 'I breathe out long.' Breathing in short, he knows: 'I breathe in short'; or breathing out short, he knows: 'I breathe out short.' He trains thus: 'Experiencing the whole body, I will breathe in'; he trains thus: 'Experiencing the whole body, I will breathe out.' He trains thus: 'Tranquilizing the bodily formation, I will breathe in'; he trains thus: 'Tranquilizing the bodily formation, I will breathe out.'
The way I have been taught to look at "bodily formation" is as "formation" in the same sense as that in Dependent Origination (the 12 Nidanas).

This means, your bodily, verbal, and mental formations and fabrications based in ignorance, a wrong view. When we cling to the body as being ourself out of ignorance, it is most obvious to the observing mind in the form of the mind craving and jumping towards something which we are attached to out of wrong view - a view that something has permanence, self, or gratification. In fact, nothing has permanence, self, or gratification.

However, when your mind craves in any way (for connection with the loved, for parting with the not loved, etc), you not only have mental formations, but bodily formations. This is manifested in tension and tightness in your body. If you are mindful you will notice that this tension and tightness increases whenever you crave - it is the most intense with hatred. You will notice that when you have these internal dialogues, they are just manifestations of craving of some kind or another (they aren't actually giving you any greater understanding of anything), and that they manifest in bodily formations through tension and tightness around your brain.

So first you train experiencing the whole body - noticing that tension and tightness in your entire body, including around your brain.

Then, when you tranquilise bodily formations, you breathe in and just relax and let go that tightness. You may find this to be extremely easy, all you really need to do is notice the tension and tightness, and think "relax" or "tranquilise," or "let go," and it will tranquilise. Whenever you have a thought, particularly a verbal one, you will notice the tension and tightness increase around your brain, so when you breathe in and out tranquilising the brain, you will suddenly realise that thoughts no longer arise. To start doing this the first time is not so easy, but mostly, focus on relaxing the entire head and face - when that is relaxed, you will notice more subtly the tension around the brain and be able to tranquilise it with greater ease.

After that, I'd suggest continuing to follow the Buddha's instructions for feelings, the mind and then dharma. You will find it infinitely rewarding - but the first step is memorising the sutta and the steps within, as well as the parts of meditation (what the Jhanas are constituted by, and so forth). You will begin to know how to identify everything the Buddha is talking about if you follow his instructions precisely.

The most important thing in meditation, however, is insight. So always remember that the final goal is not powers, but contemplating the Dharma when your mind is calm enough. Also, if you do visualisations of the pureland, or other Mahayana meditations like lojong, this is the perfect preparation.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby greentara » Fri Jun 21, 2013 5:02 am

Iliad, You seem to have the will to still your mind and advance your meditation. Not being a teacher of any sort, I can only point you to this quote which I think quite apt. "Such a condition is termed manolaya or temporary stillness of thought. Manolaya means concentration, temporarily arresting the movement of thoughts.

As soon as this concentration ceases, thoughts, old and new, rush in as usual; and even if this temporary lulling of mind should last a thousand years, it will never lead to total destruction of thought, which is what is called liberation from birth and death.

The practitioner must therefore be ever on the alert and inquire within as to who has this experience, who realizes its pleasantness? Without this inquiry he will go into a long trance or deep sleep (yoga nidra).

Due to the absence of a proper guide at this stage of spiritual practice, many have been deluded and fallen a prey to a false sense of liberation and only a few have managed to reach the goal safely.”
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby maybay » Fri Jun 21, 2013 7:52 am

Hi Iliad
You can either try to block out the dialogue, or you should rest your attention on the dialogue itself. All the suggestions above are for the first. If you block out the dialogue, this is samatha / calm abiding meditation. If you give it the attention it craves when is arises, this is vipassana. So as long as you are purposefully ignoring your inner dialogue when it becomes the most obvious experience in your mind, then you aren't practicing vipassana properly.
Try to alternate between samatha and vipassana. They support each.
People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Iliad » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:58 am

Thanks a lot for your answers! I already don’t really emotionally react to my internal monologue. Often it just tell me: ‘Hmm how should I do this?’, ‘ If I do it like this, yes, that will work, because…’ ‘well, let’s grab a bite to eat’, etc. So in my head it doesn't do any harm (it seems), it’s just my way of thinking. Often I actually talk very softly to myself in this way. I like hearing my own thoughts and ideas, in this way they become things with form and structure which I can inspect and correct (if necessary).

However, because of the internal monologue, at the very moment it ‘talks to me’ my awareness of my surroundings and of my own body disappears. The idea of an internal monologue seems to contradict awareness. I’m going to try to create a larger distance between myself and this voice, by noticing it and then inspect it thoroughly while meditating. After reading your posts, I think that’s the best way to deal with it, or not?

By the way, I was wondering if you have this as well? I read about it on several websites and lots of people seem to have it. Apparently it actually contributes to emotional growth and the development of language, especially in children, so it doesn't seem to be anything bad.

Haha reading back my own posts I seem like a crazy person, talking about this ‘voice’ in my head :tongue: I’m not, by the way… my internal monologue tells me I’m not ;)
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:14 am

However, because of the internal monologue, at the very moment it ‘talks to me’ my awareness of my surroundings and of my own body disappears. The idea of an internal monologue seems to contradict awareness. I’m going to try to create a larger distance between myself and this voice, by noticing it and then inspect it thoroughly while meditating. After reading your posts, I think that’s the best way to deal with it, or not?

Your intuition is correct. If you are engaging in a monologue, you are not meditating.

If you actively tranquilise formations, you will not have the monologue.

If you are practicing vipasyana without being first tranquil (which is a contradiction in terms), in my opinion, you're taking the long way around.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Iliad » Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:40 am

Ben Yuan wrote:
However, because of the internal monologue, at the very moment it ‘talks to me’ my awareness of my surroundings and of my own body disappears. The idea of an internal monologue seems to contradict awareness. I’m going to try to create a larger distance between myself and this voice, by noticing it and then inspect it thoroughly while meditating. After reading your posts, I think that’s the best way to deal with it, or not?

Your intuition is correct. If you are engaging in a monologue, you are not meditating.

If you actively tranquilise formations, you will not have the monologue.

If you are practicing vipasyana without being first tranquil (which is a contradiction in terms), in my opinion, you're taking the long way around.


The thing is, I like structuring my thoughts in this way. It seems to greatly enhance my ability to think. And it doesn't influence my emotions. That's why I'm trying to find a way to have both awareness and a monologue at the same time. I'll try to inspect it thoroughly when meditating, and create a distance between myself and the voice. Hopefully it results in the 'oh, you again' jeeprs was talking about :smile:
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby mandala » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:37 am

I think there's a common misconception that meditating = not thinking.

The awareness in meditation comes from noticing your thoughts - but then consciously not following the storyline. You can even label it "thinking" and then go back to whatever your meditation focus was.. body awareness, breath counting, visualisation, analysis etc.

If you're talking about what happens following meditation - well, there's nothing wrong with thinking and being logical! It doesn't need to be one or the other.. the more you meditate, you more you bring awareness into the 'out of meditation' state.

Everyone talks to themselves, it's just that some don't even notice it with all the chattering going on up there!
As for me, I even talk to myself out loud... just around the house though :P
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:15 pm

Iliad wrote:The thing is, I like structuring my thoughts in this way. It seems to greatly enhance my ability to think.

So what motivates you to meditate? Is it to think better? Or is it to see the truth, dispel ignorance, and attain cessation?
Iliad wrote:And it doesn't influence my emotions.

Every perception is accompanied by feeling: positive, neutral, or negative.
Iliad wrote:That's why I'm trying to find a way to have both awareness and a monologue at the same time.

You have a way of doing things, I respect that. If you have been taught a certain way, it is best to go with and continue doing what your teacher told you. However, in my experience, thought is useful to a point, and then it is just another cloud in the sky which must subside. There are far bigger fish to fry than thoughts in meditation, and if you can't let go of the little things, how can you ever let go of the big things?
Iliad wrote:I'll try to inspect it thoroughly when meditating, and create a distance between myself and the voice.

The voice doesn't even arise if you relax enough. The insight that is gained in meditation does not come in monologue form, it is direct seeing. Whenever you speak mentally, you are filtering through contact, feeling, perception, and volition - it is viewing through four layers of rose-tinted glasses.
mandala wrote:I think there's a common misconception that meditating = not thinking.

Discursive thought stops at the second dhyāna. It may be less than fully accurate to call this a misconception:
SN 45:8; V 8-10 wrote:With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration.

mandala wrote:You can even label it "thinking" and then go back to whatever your meditation focus was.. body awareness, breath counting, visualisation, analysis etc.

This works. However, it is the long way. In the end I must disagree that thought must continue the whole time. While you can tranquilise formations through awareness alone, it really works better when it is active tranquilisation. Try it, it is really quite interesting the first time.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby TaTa » Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:36 pm

I think that one does not necessary exclude the other. I use to avoid thinking everytime i could but it was interesting when my teacher gave me something to reflect upon and i discover that by thinking in a relax, and focus way i was calming my mind as if i was doing shamata practice.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby 5heaps » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:51 pm

Iliad wrote:My question is: how to combine thought with awareness? I want to get to the level where I can be fully aware all the time in daily life. Most people who practice vipassana don't seem to have this problem, but maybe that's because they think in a different way. So... any thoughts? ;)

perfected concentration (samadhi) will function to give you 3 things:

1) the ability to place your mind on any object for and length of time, including concepts ie, internal chatter, without losing it.

2) the ability to not associate with those concepts out of attachment. in other words you will always keep a skillful distance between you and ideas, ensuring that you always operate with great perspective and lack of bias.

3) the ability to shut off all concepts, on demand, and remain in a quiet state with full awareness, without interruption.


yes, people without samadhi are not really human.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby seeker242 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:02 pm

Iliad wrote:So... any thoughts? ;)


Awareness? Awareness of what? How about awareness of Internal monologue rather than awareness vs Internal monologue? Maintaining awareness all throughout the day does not mean that you don't think about stuff! Awareness of thinking is still awareness. Now, if you are trying to do breathing meditation and internal monologue never stops, that's a completely different situation than living daily life. Daily life requires thinking! Just breathing in and out, not really. Walking down the street, not really. Balancing your checkbook or figuring out some situation, usually most certainly! :)

Most people who practice vipassana don't seem to have this problem, but maybe that's because they think in a different way.


I would say they they don't set up "awareness" and "thinking" as two mutually exclusive things because they maintain awareness of their thinking processes and they don't consider thinking to be "something bad" so to speak. Just like breathing and awareness are not two mutually exclusive things.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby Iliad » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:12 pm

As you can see, I'm a complete novice. I'm going to work on it, thanks for your replies! :smile:
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby avisitor » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:59 pm

Here is my two cents ... hahaha
The OP ask how to combine awareness ans thoughts.
I believe there is a slight misconception.
Awareness is you. Thoughts are just one of the tools you use.
Combining the two .. would mean that you want to be identified with your thoughts as yourself.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby LastLegend » Thu Sep 12, 2013 5:29 pm

avisitor wrote:Here is my two cents ... hahaha
The OP ask how to combine awareness ans thoughts.
I believe there is a slight misconception.
Awareness is you. Thoughts are just one of the tools you use.
Combining the two .. would mean that you want to be identified with your thoughts as yourself.


If I may press it, what is awareness?
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby avisitor » Fri Sep 13, 2013 1:46 am

LastLegend wrote:
avisitor wrote:Here is my two cents ... hahaha
The OP ask how to combine awareness ans thoughts.
I believe there is a slight misconception.
Awareness is you. Thoughts are just one of the tools you use.
Combining the two .. would mean that you want to be identified with your thoughts as yourself.


If I may press it, what is awareness?


What answer do you want?
Do you wish for a technical one or one from a dictionary??
The real answer is the one you are experiencing presently.
However, like ice cream, it comes in many different flavors ...
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby LastLegend » Fri Sep 13, 2013 5:31 am

avisitor wrote:
LastLegend wrote:
avisitor wrote:Here is my two cents ... hahaha
The OP ask how to combine awareness ans thoughts.
I believe there is a slight misconception.
Awareness is you. Thoughts are just one of the tools you use.
Combining the two .. would mean that you want to be identified with your thoughts as yourself.


If I may press it, what is awareness?


What answer do you want?
Do you wish for a technical one or one from a dictionary??
The real answer is the one you are experiencing presently.
However, like ice cream, it comes in many different flavors ...


"The one you are experiencing presently." Which one? What is that one? I am pressing for your descriptive description.
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Re: Awareness vs Internal monologue

Postby avisitor » Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:53 pm

Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, or sensory patterns
So what good did this description do you??
You know what awareness is.
If you are asking who you are then that is a question worth asking ... hahahaha
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