We often talk about the effect of so much media distracting our ability to think, but even in the 16th century, people were still troubled by incessant thoughts. In Chapter 11 of The Cloud of Unknowing, the anonymous author calls for us to investigate the nature of our thoughts. He writes:
I warn you that a person who fails in vigilance and control of his thoughts, even though they are not sinful in their first movements, will eventually grow careless about small sins.
Although our thoughts today can often stem from interactions or instant messages from around the globe, some of those thoughts are reactions to what we see around us. For example, we might be watching a movie, but our thoughts are sometimes bouncing between the plot itself and our feelings about the actor’s ability.
Some former social media influencers recall living their lives thinking about their next post and subsequent hashtag to grow their following. Even when we look at something beautiful such as a sunrise or sunset, we comment about its beauty and perhaps compare it to others we’ve seen before.
The anonymous author doesn’t say, though, when we should investigate our thoughts, particularly since he says in other chapters that as soon as a thought arises, we beat it with our sacred word into the cloud of forgetting. However, modern practices tell us to be curious about our thoughts during the meditation itself.
Some meditation instructors such as Tara Brach tell us to welcome each thought—good or bad—and accept it without attaching too much significance to it. This might keep us in a continual state of judging our thoughts to the point that we might never rest.