(Please pardon me if this one isn't entirely clear, for reasons that will be evident in a moment.)
I've been diligently practicing meditation recently. Where I would have missed days previously, lately I've meditated without fail before sleeping if I hadn't done it earlier. I do my end-of-day cooldown every day, even if I feel rather exhausted.
This end-of-day meditating is interesting, because it has me meditating in modes I previously wouldn't. I would've said, before, "I'm too tired right now..." -- maybe not consciously, but that would have been the subtext.
So tonight I'm having a very-tired-meditation.
And I noticed, sometimes thoughts spin up in entire chains linked together.
This must be happening all the time, but being dull and fatigued meant it was like my mind was working more slowly. I was able to recognize it tonight.
In basic mindfulness meditation, you focus on something. If your focus wanders, you re-focus.
I just focus on my breath and pay attention to that. Brian Sharp does a fine job of explaining it in his recent "Don't Look Away" talk at PAX.
Inevitably, your thought goes away from your breath. And you keep bringing it back there.
Tonight, I realized for the first time the chain of thoughts that spins up together. It was fascinating. It's like, when I was off the rails and was not focused on my breathing but rather thinking, it was because one thought seemed to trigger the next thought.
The most surreal moment came when I was checking my iPhone to see how much time was left in the meditation. I became aware at the thought underlying a near-automatic chain of thought of action. I was typing my password into my iPhone's lock screen slowly, and thinking even while I did it, "This is odd, I'm supposed to be meditating, not checking how much time is left." That thought came two clicks in to my four-click password. And I still, somehow, completed the four clicks, registered how much time was on the clock with my eyes, and then re-locked the phone -- all habitually -- before settling back in to meditate (for 49 more seconds).
Plenty of others have written about this before. It's not all so groundbreaking. But it was fascinating for me to see. It makes me strongly suspect that the neurotic click-click-click of online procrastination is of the same stuff, a spun-up chain of thoughts cascading into each other until broken by the external environment -- or interrupted and re-focused elsewhere due to one's own mindfulness.
If I understand what you mean by "thought chains", it's both fascinating and frightening to me to realize how far "out of the present" I can travel in just a few seconds as a thought chain arises. Yet, I'm never any farther from the present than simply refocusing, but at the same time, I am. The greater the "length" of the chain (emotional intensity?), the more difficult it is to be aware that I've lost focus.
Thanks for sharing the vid -- checking it out now.
For me one of the benefits of a daily meditation practice is that I got much better at noticing my own thoughts instead of being wound up in them or reactive to them. Even a 1/2 second between the initial thought and the next thought, emotion or action can be enough to interrupt a pattern or habit you want to change. And to have a more neutral mind instead of always judging everyone and yourself.
Unfortunately, entrepreneurs, freelancers, artists, and creatives of all stripes have a dual-sided problem. When things are going great, it's hard to sleep! Your mind is racing, filled with great ideas and inspiration.
The flipside is no better -- haunted visages of worries and concerns feeling us up.
And when it happens, we're presented a dreadful choice: lie there in a frustrating unsleepable mood, or get up restlessly and push your sleeping hour back. Neither, frankly, are great options.
Then, I found a solution that's been one of the biggest gains to health and happiness I've discovered over the last year.
I took up a more serious meditation practice earlier this year in Japan. I set my goal very simply: just meditate five minutes per day. I don't focus on having a "great meditating session" -- often they go poorly -- but even the poor sessions teach me something.
According to Leo Babuata of zenhabits, meditation is the most important habit to implement.
Three years ago, I began meditation after StumblingUpon Babuata's blog.
Every morning I woke up, sat on a comfortable cushion, and listened to my breath for 10-15 minutes. Well, every morning I wasn't hungover. And every morning I wasn't busy with school work. Aaand every morning I was at home, and not on the road.