Q: My mind tends to go with the thoughts lately and I disconnect. Do you have any thoughts about this?

A: If you find that you are having thoughts that are hard to ignore and that you do not think are useful, and as you say, are disconnecting you from the practice, I usually take the fight fire with fire approach, meaning I use thoughts to break the pattern of unproductive thinking. It can sometimes be useful to focus on different areas outside of thought like mind states or body and breath or feeling tones, but when the thoughts are very persistent I find it useful to bring in thoughts like, I am here for the benefit of my well-being; my well-being serves the interest of the well-being of others; when I am calm and happy I can bring calmness and happiness into the world. These are just some examples and you can also feel free to use thoughts to direct your attention to the breathing and the body. Let these thoughts be obvious, even loud, so that they are the dominant thoughts in your mind at the time. After using skillful thoughts for a while your mind won’t need them as much to stay with the breath and the body and the feelings of goodness that come from the meditation, and then you can gradually allow them quiet down again.

Q: What would be an example of why a monk might choose to meditate on right thinking? I understand what it means and strives for, so my question seems obvious. But what might prompt one to focus again on a refresher on right thinking so to speak? The reason I’m asking is, I often hear of the more trendy (is it?) “mindfulness “ way of accepting your thoughts and not judging thoughts… we might feel like we are slipping at times into negative thought; judgment, jealousy, attachment or anger, etc. acceptance and then moving on. Is right thinking here saying we must acknowledge (versus accept) a slip or habit of unskillful thinking and consciously practice right thinking?
I read an article last year that suggested that mindfulness as the wider public knows it, reads about it, is not the true mindfulness of Buddhist teachings. Is true mindfulness a practice that does allow/ encourage digging into practicing the opposite of “wrong” thinking? I’m curious why the word “right” was selected for this type of thinking. I’m interpreting it to mean “skillful thinking.” I may be too hung up on the word “ right”.

A: We’re trying to get the practice in a place where we are continually refocusing on these everyday activities of the mind (ie right thinking). We try to get still enough, concentrated enough to notice these things. In a way, there is some acceptance- we could call it acknowledgment as well- but you’re right, we don’t just move on. If we don’t accept that something is there, we might miss it. Once we accept that, say, the mind has a bad habit- something that we’ve actually identified as harmful to us- we have our work right there. And we are offered many ways of dealing with it. As you mention, in the face of harmful thoughts, we can try to cultivate the opposite- like cultivating good will when we are feeling ill will, or cultivating the pleasure of our concentration practice if we are too caught up in sensual pleasure. As far as the last part of your question,you’re not alone in putting a question mark in front of the word “right”, although I’ve become accustomed to it personally. Wise and skillful can be helpful alternatives. But you are also correct that sometimes the definition of mindfulness that’s put out is much more passive than what is described in Buddhist scripture. The simile of the gatekeeper is a perfect illustration- while the gatekeeper might look passive at times, if he’s doing his job well, he will be quite active in his attentiveness, and take action if the wrong sort of crowd tries to enter. The other less-than-passive simile for right mindfulness is the goad- a pointy tool to prod oxen. This is useful when our mind becomes sluggish and tends to slip into bad habits. This is not to say that the practice is about beating ourselves up- this is why we’re offered many balancing measures of cultivating a greater happiness- but it does contain strong language and imagery at times, I think because it’s what is needed at times to get through to us.