Is it still quiet mind when my mind talks but I don’t listen?

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 2, Part 5 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: How about other kinds of difficulties? Yes.

Student: Not a difficulty so much, but a question about what you’re saying. How might one discern the difference between a relatively quiet mind and being unaware of one’s mind-speak?

CTT: Unaware of one’s mind-speak? What would be “unaware of one’s mind-speak?”

Student: Not hearing the words the mind’s saying. When one relaxes a little deeper, then all of the sudden there’s a lot of talk going on, so to speak. And yet at some level it’s possible, in my opinion, to be unaware of the constant conversation.

CTT: That’s a good question, but a very complicated one. I think the way it works, until you get to specialized techniques, is that you try to do this controlled attention practice of keeping in contact with your breath and just being sensorily aware. Otherwise, you notice your mind going on and on and on.

In fact, did anybody have the experience that this practice seemed to make your mind race? (Many hands go up!) Yeah. The traditional answer to that is no, it didn’t make your mind race. You just became aware of how fast it goes all the time.


That’s the condition of most people’s ordinary mind. It is going along lickety-split and we’re used to that. We identify with that cocktail party chatter that goes on all the time. Until we make a special effort to be quiet and pay attention, we don’t notice that anything’s there.

I think it’s quite normal to start becoming more and more aware of this, to get frustrated by it. It used to drive me nuts. I felt, “I’m going to just quiet my mind now,” and 10 minutes later realize I had been thinking like mad the entire time without an instant of quiet in there. But don’t get discouraged by that. You’re seeing the way your mind actually works, and seeing the way it works is the first step in being able to do anything about it.

There are eventually techniques to work more directly with that kind of mind chatter, but I think we’d be kind of jumping ahead of things to talk about them now. Maybe later in the quarter you might bring up that same kind of question.


  1. A method I learned recently that (finally!!) is a workable way to deepen the stability of attention:
    1. become unperturbably relaxed … spend 15 min. just scanning your body and relaxing any pockets of tension … maintain a vigilance about physical relaxation thru introspection, relaxing anytime pockets of physical tension arise. This is the sine qua non. Like a sleeping babies face. Anytime little (or big) pockets of tension arise return immediately to the relaxation step.
    2. allow your breathing to become perfectly automatic, sustaining your body perfectly as though asleep. Automatic pilot on the respiration.
    3. Place attention on an object starting with an easy one like :
    a. the sensations of breath throughout the body, or
    b. sensations of the breath in the chest and abdomen or
    c. sensations of the breath at the tip of the nose. or
    d. the space of the mind and it contents if any. No censoring, no need for content, empty space is fine. Just observe.

    For a thru c: Any time your mind wanders to a thought of any kind this is referred to as “course excitation” or “course agitation” …. the antidote is to relax more deeply. Our wandering minds are agitated, excited.

    I usually spend most of the first hour getting to the point I can focus on the breath for just a half minute or so…. and in that process become way way relaxed.

    We can deepen this process much more quickly if we have discharged the energy of our courser, gross “afflicted emotions” most of us carry from childhood in a psychotherapeutic setting. The above process seems to act as a fine tooth comb, uncovering and clearing the rotting corpses in our psyche that rob our energy, clarity, intuition …

  2. Afterthoughts:
    – be comfortable seated, a chair or whatever such that you could be there for a long time without your body bothering you.

    – do short sessions, 15 minutes, up to 18 per day. No marathons until you just do that spontaneously. When you get up to go about your day you want to be thinking “man I love that cushion” ….

    a thru d are progressively more challenging. It is a big mistake and a recipe for failure to try to skip steps. Don’t be greedy … the riches available thru attaining proficiency in elementary steps are the gold we seek.

  3. @Rocket:
    >Don’t be greedy … the riches available thru attaining proficiency in elementary steps are the gold we seek.<
    Good advice! Try for too much right off, fail, build up a conviction that you will fail.
    That's why I like Shinzen Young's ( approach to teaching vipassana meditation, he's broken it into small steps that people can master.

  4. Dr Tart,

    I’ve been doing the Mindfulness 101 exercises ( ) that are posted on the IONS/Shift in Action web site for about two weeks now. I have to admit I didn’t think this sort of thing would be very helpful. I’m overly sensitive to the world already; I wanted a cure for anomalous experiences not a way to have more of them. And meditation is such a hippy thing. It sounds very silly in some ways.

    But I have to admit it has been very helpful. I finally understand what being grounded is. For almost a year now I’ve been told that I need to ground myself by people who regularly have anomalous experiences (they would use the term psychics, but I’m not thrilled with that word). I’ve tried to follow their instructions, and it has helped a bit, but I’ve always struggled with feeling overwhelmed by too much information. When I’ve been doing the mindfulness exercises, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the experiences around me. Even the really anomalous ones that usually have me begging my counselor for a cure. I had even gotten to the point of feeling that being the way I am might actually be a gift.

    Then I got lazy and skipped the exercises over the weekend. I was in to see my counselor Monday morning begging for a cure. We discussed the mindfulness exercise. He said in some ways it seemed counter-intuitive to him too, but he said I was so much better when I was doing it. He talked me into giving it another shot before I gave up.

    Doing the exercise helped me feel better about myself almost immediately. Which is surprising, because it sometimes sets off anomalous experiences. It did this time. Not a ghost experience, but a hard to describe experience involving a very beautiful purple light. But I didn’t feel unhappy about the weird stuff occurring, even afterwards when it was over and I had time to think about it (which is usually when I convince myself that I’m nuts). It didn’t seem any more unusual than how my foot was feeling at that point in time.

    I’m not feeling gifted at the moment, but the craving for a cure is gone.



    PS: The above was actually written yesterday so I’ve had one more day since I started doing the exercises again. Today I feel like I actually fit in my own skin somehow. I know that sounds odd, but a lot of the time I feel like I don’t quite fit. I want to stretch out, but I have no room to breathe. Today I can breathe and I feel OK as I am. I don’t know if I’m gifted, but I’m having a good day. 🙂

  5. Hi Sandy
    It may seem counter intuitive but I would like to suggest: instead of seeking ways to make things “go away” doing the opposite can be another strategy and a final way transform apparent problems into “forward progress.” One would first find a context or “container” one feels safe in … guidance of someone you trust who has “been there”. Setting aside a window of time in which to explore the full depth of whatever is coming into your experience from your psyche. It would be usual to find that the troublesome seeming experiences we want to eliminate …. if we simply allow them, similar to meditative processes neither clinging nor pushing them away, they become the “vehicle” that carries us forward. Conversely one could say if we dig in our heels and absolutely refuse to ‘go there” that is the process of becoming stuck in that very experience.

    This brings to mind the way psychiatrists are trained: they want to give a drug immediately to make whatever experience go away right this minute (to the delight of the pharm industry) …. but many peoples growth process which is emerging naturally from their own psyche is brought to a halt by that and they become “stuck”, neither fish nor fowl…. chronically “ill”. I’m not saying you are ill (plenty of psychiatrists would), I’m suggesting a natural potentially growth full experience may be emerging from your psyche in these experiences. People taking this approach typically become “weller than well” ie trouble some experiences go away and they function better than they ever have before with more depth and clarity.

    1. … actually the first step would be to posses an intrepid attitude toward ones personal growth. Then find the proper container…

      1. Rocket,

        Not everyone is gifted with an intrepid attitude towards personal growth. Come to think of it, I didn’t like going through puberty either. 😉


  6. Rocket,

    I’ve never met anyone who is having the sort of experiences that I have. I have corresponded with a few people who have gone through similar things. And thanks to a very kind parapsychologist, I had the opportunity to talk to one lady on the phone who has such experiences and is quite happy to have them. But I don’t know anyone in my local area quite like me. So I really don’t have someone I trust with first hand experience to get me through the weird stuff.

    I was very lucky to find a counselor who sees me as gifted and perceptive rather than pathologically damaged. He has counseled people previously who have reported some sorts of anomalous cognition, but nothing at quite my level of oddness (that’s my term, he wouldn’t approve :-)). Unfortunately he is within about a month of retiring, and he is concerned about what to do with me. Apparently I defy referral. So we are trying to figure out ways for me to be OK. I’m not aiming for enlightened.

    Almost a year ago I was told how to protect myself with light in order to help cope with some of the strangeness. That helped quite a bit, and I still practice doing that. I actually ended up incorporating it into the mindfulness exercises because I started creating light out of habit when I concentrated on my arms and legs. I like doing the light stuff; it may just be a placebo thing, but it makes you feel warm and cures aches and pains, which is nice. I swear that sometimes people around me seem to react to it. The light is pleasant, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing for a cure.

    The mindfulness exercises are helping me be OK right now. I don’t crave a cure today. I have had some anomalous experiences today, but I still feel OK. I’m pretty good with things being this way. I do understand that at some point I may have to look at finding other tools for coping. Just like I needed to find the mindfulness methods to get me this far. But don’t push me to go too fast. Didn’t you mention that we shouldn’t be greedy?


    1. This morning I haven’t done the mindfulness thing yet, so maybe I’ll feel better when I get around to it. The anomalous stuff got an early start and I don’t really feel like acknowledging it yet today.

      I know a lot of the people who log onto this site take issue with my reluctance to accept having unusual experiences. The thing is, my universe keeps getting bigger, and I feel like I’m getting lost. It isn’t that I think that this is such a bad universe, I really don’t. I just miss my old universe sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *