Mindfulness Dissolves Thoughts — Attention Is What’s Left Over, with Jon Kabat-Zinn


It doesn’t take long when you start to develop
a practice of mindfulness before you realize that we are virtually continually bombarded
by thoughts. It’s they’re like weather patterns in the mind. And there are sometimes
nice clear sunny days but there are an awful lot of cloudy days, tumultuous days, rainy
days, turbulent stormy weather. And again the challenge is how are we to be in relationship
to all of that stuff that’s driving our lives and our narrative of who I am? And so
when you get in touch with what awareness really is then you’re – the first thing
you realize is that those thoughts are not me and they’re not mind. They’re just
like weather patterns. They’re impersonal weather patterns in the mind. So then you
can observe them like a scientist. Like what is the nature of this thought? Where does
it come from? I mean they come like bullets, you know, fired out of a machine gun. They’re
very, very fast so to speak. That’s quite a militaristic image but, you know, another
way is bubbles coming off the bottom of a pot of boiling water, you know. If you’ve
ever watched a pot of boiling water say a glass pot the bubbles tend to nucleate at
the bottom. And then they go through the water and they go poof at the surface. So the thoughts
are very similar and that’s where I think we use another – people often use this term
that thoughts self-liberate. You don’t have to get rid of them. People misunderstand meditation
as oh I just sweep all my thoughts away and then I’m in this like Nirvana. What you’ll get by trying to sweep all your
thoughts away is a headache at the most because there’s no way to sweep your thoughts away.
They will get you every time. And then you can have millions of thoughts about mindfulness
and meditation and those are just thoughts too. They’re not meditating. But when you
see that they’re not your thoughts then you can watch them in this kind of impersonal
more sort of if you will observing way with kindness, with self-compassion because a lot
of them are heavily loaded with negative emotion. And you can see that if you don’t touch
them, if you don’t do anything with them, if you don’t get caught in them they self-liberate
naturally in awareness. The awareness is like touching a soap bubble, you know. It’s fun
for kids and fun for adults too. A soap bubble and you touch it and it just goes poof. So
I love that image like the thought is the soap bubble and the emotion too. It’s valancing
the thought. And you don’t need to do anything with it because your awareness is like it’s
not even a finger, it’s not corporeal. The awareness, just the embracing of it or the
arising of it like in the sky it goes poof all by itself. And don’t take my word for
it. This is something that when you sit down and you begin to watch you’ll see this is
not rocket science. You don’t have to sit in a cave for 30 years to have that kind of
experience. All you need to do is in some sense get out of your own way. Now I’m not saying that’s easy. That’s
really hard but if you can have moments when you get out of your own way then you’ll
see that a lot of the stuff that we get so caught up in it’s like – it’s a mirage.
And that doesn’t mean that the thoughts aren’t valuable. I mean I think it was Einstein
who said, you know, if you have one or two really good thoughts in a lifetime you’re
ahead of the curve. Paraphrasing. So most of our thoughts are actually kind of mundane
or imprisoning. But thinking is a very, very – I mean it drives imagination, it drives
creativity. So maybe we need to just create a bigger arena for our thoughts and watch
how they not only self-liberate but also inform each other at some sense. And all of a sudden
you see something that no one in the history of humanity has seen before. And you apprehend
it because you’re making your or something is being revealed to you. I won’t say you’re
making the connection but somehow a connection gets made and that’s called an insight.
You’re going to have profound insights. I mean the science is sort of storied, you
know wonderful stories of eureka moments, insight and it’s usually not by driving
thinking and banging your head against the wall. It’s when you thought as much as you’ve
gone as far as thought can take you and then you rest in awareness. Maybe sometimes it’s
in sleep where you wake up out of the sleep and…


83 Responses

  1. Frank

    April 14, 2016 5:23 pm

    Wonderful video! Learned so much + 3 new vocabulary words. One of my favorite videos on this channel.

  2. White Fartt

    April 14, 2016 6:45 pm

    Very inspirational and insightfully explained. Our mind on a mundane basis is analogous to an unpredictable, impersonal weather pattern. The finger is the consciously self-aware will of the human being, while the thoughts are the rising gas bubbles. We have the innate ability to observe them like a scientist. We are taught to be like scientists as math/science majors, but we are never trained to be true scientists through connecting and integrating ideas we learn. Putting it into practice takes time, but for me I do see noticeable improvements in my mood everyday when I apply mindfulness in the appropriate moments.

  3. Guillaume Bourgault

    April 14, 2016 8:09 pm

    I agree with the thoughts coming from nowhere. I practice Vipassana meditation, and I sometimes have moments that appear to be without thoughts. Then, 1 minute later, I catch myself following a train of thoughts for a few seconds. I can often trace the chain backwards, what was the association that made my mind go from one thought to another. But at a certain point, I stumble on what appears to be a thought that comes from nowhere. Nothing in my mind content can explain why this thought came to the surface. This is when I have to come to the conclusion that I don't have control over the arising of thoughts.

  4. Octopus On Fire

    April 14, 2016 9:46 pm

    Interesting topic. Could this be related somehow to the focused and diffused modes of thinking for problem solving?

  5. Mark Lucas

    April 14, 2016 10:32 pm

    I have attained profound insight into practical questions only after giving up thinking about them and falling asleep.

  6. alg11297

    April 14, 2016 11:13 pm

    What a load! This new age thought went out with est which was another pile. Your thoughts come at you in a stream of consciousness: a term used in literature for how your mind wanders. Mindfulness is another term for THINKING or paying attention. The brain is designed to have thoughts all the time…even during sleep. By attempting to how back your thoughts you are going against nature. Then again, what Zen Buddist ever invented anything?

  7. 1p6t1gms

    April 15, 2016 4:58 am

    Success is never guaranteed but there is reward for self-mastery of life. (Concentration, Analysis, Empathy…)

  8. Garrett Szilard

    April 15, 2016 5:44 am

    LSD also dissolves thoughts and helps destroy ego from the mind.. That's what scientists are starting to say.

  9. Science

    April 15, 2016 10:06 am

    Day dreaming and over thinking or getting off the topic isnt good when your driving a truck with a b trailer

  10. mackdmara

    April 15, 2016 11:47 am

    A proper tea is hard to make. What you put in must be a good base. The water pure, the pot, clean. It must then be steeped for just the right amount of time. To long and it is bitter, not long enough and it is weak. U find thought more like this.

  11. Derren Desouza

    April 16, 2016 2:57 am

    I suffer from stressful thoughts, they manifest themselves physically as me biting my fingers and lips. I have been doing this for over 10 years but untraining the neural networks (which have become pretty strong by now) is a wonderful thought but I'm not making much headway 🙁 Videos like this help me to keep trying though. I'm grateful for them.

  12. AdaptorLive

    April 16, 2016 7:43 am

    Thanks for this video. The practice of mindfulness is such a great idea. There seems to be a lot of power in its simplicity.

    As someone who is almost constantly bombarded with, ehm, unhelpful thoughts, I really need to give it a try.

  13. Jacob Sherman

    April 16, 2016 5:47 pm

    Great video/talk, but I hate when people quote Einstein on topics that aren't physics. It gives weight to a subject he was not an expert on, because the name carries so much weight.

  14. 216trixie

    April 17, 2016 4:47 am

    I've had more profound insights than you can shake a stick at. Enlightenment isn't what it's cracked up to be.

  15. John

    April 18, 2016 7:51 pm

    As a person who has depression, this video gave me more insight and understand about why and how I should practice mindfulness. Thanks Jon and Big Think!

  16. Nestor P Cortez

    April 26, 2016 12:26 pm

    Explaining mindfulness to people who don't have a meditative practice and have never achieved a meditative state, is like speaking in a foreign language to them. There has to be a better way. Thoughts anyone?

  17. Oliver van der Togt

    May 2, 2016 4:37 pm

    Distraction is the best form of mindfulness unless you're worried about something and then it is thought.

  18. Kenneth Ultimate

    May 4, 2016 4:57 pm

    I want to monitor my thoughts but I always found myself unsuccessful. I've always carried away by them. Monitoring your thought when you are dreaming is much easier than doing it while awake. While awake, you are always distracted by your surrounding.

  19. Zoophilia Consultant

    May 10, 2016 4:30 am

    I like when I say something and it repeats in my head like five times! My mind just does what it wants. What am I supposed to do with this thing?

  20. luca marco

    May 10, 2016 9:09 pm

    Remember every time you will see a PUB about Mindfulness & Meditation.
    Meditation is ONLY one part of the skills that we must develop!!
    One !!!

  21. Daemn27

    May 11, 2016 6:40 pm

    Also better than Nivea or Vichy antiaging, he is 71. Btw the best thing I've ever made was to start meditating, it's the best way to deal with my OCD and life. Thank you Kabat without you I might not have known it.

  22. Robert

    May 22, 2016 4:54 pm

    Very interesting. But when he talked about having a big realization at the end, it seemed like he was talking about someone discovering a new scientific invention or something dramatic like that. I think stuff like that happens sometimes, but I think just the simple awareness that all these thoughts and emotions, and especially the imagination, is really not necessary and it's all actually pretty disturbing to the mind, and that the mind can just keep things very, very simple and find a sense of calmness and well being in basically just being alive and more or less sane, without all these crazy thoughts, and emotions, and images, drowning the mind.

    I think if someone can just realize that simple fact, that that is a big realization because it frees the mind up from all the drama and emotionality of all it's basically meaningless thoughts and emotions. That is the big realization. It doesn't have to be something dramatic like discovering a new scientific invention or something. It's actually a very quiet, simple thing I think.

  23. Don Kirk

    May 31, 2016 3:03 pm

    Another scientific determinist preaching to us what every religious, racist, and socialist determinist holds as their core belief: our thoughts are not our thoughts, our behavior is not our behavior, life and reason and reality and freedom are merely illusions. What the highly intelligent but intellectually crippled determinists in academia never 'get' is that Self-mastery is a complete contradiction to the world-view of a determinist.

  24. ChaZ-E

    July 5, 2016 4:49 pm

    The awareness of free-flowing thoughts is the 3rd stage of meditation, and it's the most enlightening.

  25. Sn0wflak3

    August 21, 2016 6:34 am

    I've been practicing mindfulness for a couple of months now and i have to say the difference is pretty noticeable. Another thing i've notice is that it keeps getting better. As if my brain figured out what "the right direction" is. It really shows imo, that we've been raised wrong in this society not necessarily because of bad intentions, the people raising us simply didn't know better themselves.

  26. Madolite

    May 22, 2017 3:32 pm

    Why are we calling it mindful if your mind is empty? Also, how can you experience thoughts without actually observing them and creating thoughts about what your thoughts are?

    (My questions are rhetorical, you're not meant to reply)

  27. Martin Lichtblau

    June 16, 2017 11:05 am

    Yes, that what our subconsciousness does, making connections; which it reveals to us in moments of silence.

  28. The AMV TOP 50

    June 16, 2017 9:47 pm

    take LSD and smoke pot. LOTS OF IDEAS , LOTS OF BUBBLES….more parts of the brain talking to other parts that normally they dont talk to. 420 expand your mind. dont depress thoughts altogether with drinking or depression or "anti depressives" or mindfulness or meditation…. have thoughts and have fun, dude. and pass that thing already, Jesus….

  29. Faisal Pathan

    July 15, 2017 12:29 pm

    I practiced mindfulness unknowingly since the age of 12.I was topper of the class.Everything was great until I got hit by those harmones ,started having mood swings,lost touch with reality,started identifying with someone else I was not.Not being mindful lately brought a lot of damage to my life.I even developed anxiety .Life sucks.Time to fight back.

  30. TheTarutau

    August 10, 2017 10:47 pm

    im guessing you did not meditate to no mind. they actually stop. for very long periods of time. why if im not mistaken of those that i have noticed that could potentially have reached enlightenment there is a recurring phenomena that occurs. they lose track of vast stretches of time. for me it was 2 hours lost while meditating in horse stance. one second it was 1230 the next it was 230. more peculiar though was that i felt rejuvinated afterwards as if i had not been in a horse stance at all but just laying down at a beach watching the waves crash upon the shore. im guessing something definitely stopped at that point. but your right in so far as its pointless. its like denying half of yourself. the only people that might delight in such are the ascetics… and im not sure they can stay ascetics once they reach enlightenment. there is nothing wrong with thinking. like you said it drives innovation having thoughts.

    i like your bubbles analogy. most would make the statement i do not exist after supposedly reaching enlightenment. that was not my impression at all though. i was the water in the pot. the bubbles are my thoughts and the bubbles do not define me any more then the bubbles define the water. it is not actually self that ceases to exist it is the ego that ceases to exist and these are two different things.

  31. Nick MaGrick

    August 21, 2017 7:34 am

    this is how ive always viewed my thoughts, less as I get older unfortunately. More stress making mindfulness harder, more taxing. I really liked the way that he was able to explain it, I dont think I could do it so well

  32. FilmBritt

    September 22, 2017 10:28 pm

    The question remains, if I am the observer of thughts, who am I who is the observer? Consciousness? Then, what is consciousness? Any mental answer is also a thought that can be observed.

  33. Dennis R. Levesque

    March 22, 2018 1:05 am

    You sure are screwed up. You CAN sweep away all your thoughts. In fact, my brother told me how you can fall asleep by pretending your mind is a black-board. And whenever you get a thought, just erase it. Eventually, you fall asleep. Mindfulness is being aware of everything in general. Attention is not a default status of your mind, from letting all your thoughts "out of the barn". Attention is an extra focus on the relevant things that you decided to pay attention to.

  34. Noe Berengena

    April 4, 2018 2:17 am

    I owe Bill Moyers enormous gratitude for his PBS series "Healing and the Mind" (1993). That was my intro to Jon K-Z. Back then Jon said, "If you hope to really grow in strength and wisdom and bring healing into your life, you have to come to the realization that this moment is precious. And not only precious, but it’s wonderful, even if you’re in pain, in this moment.”

  35. Murilo Pais

    May 3, 2019 4:52 pm

    I think the transcription is wrong, when Jon said "Those thoughts are not me and they're not mind", the word mind sounds like mine, and the context looks like a Mine

  36. Ed P.

    May 29, 2019 9:19 pm

    Está subtitulada al español. Ir a Options y ponerlo en español. The title of the video should be also in Spanish, so people now that it is subtitled. Thanks for translating!


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