Mindfulness vs. Papañca

Knowing things will change allows us to experience them without spinning too many thoughts about the future. This spinning of thoughts is called papañca. It is also called “mental proliferation”. When something in the current stream of experience causes a thought and that thought is the seed of another thought, and another, and another.. we’re creating a stream of thoughts that is no longer connected to the reality of the present moment. If the first thought in this chain is a bad one, we can project that negative situation into the future with a long chain of connected thoughts and suffer with each one. If the first thought is a good one, we can create a small amount of craving for each successive thought until we have so much energy wound up in it that we are clinging tightly to the object in our thoughts — quite attached to something impermanent. This also causes us to suffer.

Staying present with sensations as they are in the body has the effect of cutting this chain of mental proliferation. This is one of the primary benefits of mindfulness practice. Staying with what IS, instead of constantly living in our world of created thinking. We can learn to stop clinging to our thoughts and identifying with our thoughts and believing our thoughts to be true and suffering when our inner world no longer matches the world as it is. We can begin to “trust the present moment”, “be with what is”, “be here now”.

So how does this play out in our lives?

Sometimes things seem to be in harmony. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes you can be with your experience moment to moment and things still don’t seem to be going your way. The thought may arise – “I”m having a bad day”. If you have this thought, try to recognize it as a thought. Try to see the thought arise and pass away. Try to focus on the sensations of the body. Presumably if you are thinking thoughts like this, the sensations may be unpleasant. Try to stay with them as they are. Feel instead of thinking. Stay present instead of getting lost. This is actually a great opportunity. Staying with unpleasant feelings allows you to see those feelings as they are. Seeing them as they are, you can come to notice that you are not the feelings. They are not you. You can start to see that they are not constant, either. They waver and they wobble. They expand and they contract. Ultimately, they are like all other things that arise in awareness – impermanent. If you are really focused, you can stay with the feelings until they cease. Noticing them dissipate and vanish is a powerful experience – leading to a powerful insight. In this way, we can turn an experience that would normally lead to a spiral of suffering into an experience of awakening leading to the cessation of suffering. The key is to stay with the real; stay with the sensations; see the thoughts as thoughts.

If you are practicing mindfulness and ever have the thought, “Why am I doing this again? What is mindfulness doing for me?” Remember this: mindfulness keeps you present; it avoids the runaway train of papañca and all of the suffering and clinging that comes with it.

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