States of Mind: An Overview for Meditators

          There is a continuum of states of mind in which one might find oneself. Often, if we’re present with our current experience, we become aware of our state of mind. However, it is not unusual for us to become aware of a state of mind only in retrospect. Meditators are more commonly present with their state of mind and aware of their current state, especially during meditation. For beginning meditators this is often the first time they have actually monitored their state of mind and often find it more chaotic and distressing than focused and relaxed.

I will use four markers for points along the continuum. However, there are many points along a continuum, so these four markers are by no means exhaustive. They should, at least, make the nature of the continuum clear.

In a discussion of meditation in Part I of Creative Self-agency in the Path One sub-section, I used four descriptors for states of mind during meditation that I will now elaborate a little on using a weather metaphor.

 1. Monkey Mind

Monkey mind is analogous to a rain storm with black clouds illuminated by lightning and punctuated by thunder. The black clouds represent thoughts and, as in a thunderstorm, fill the sky (mind), obscuring everything else in the sky. The lightning represents emotional content and the thunder represents powerful impulses that arise.

2. Hummingbird Mind

Hummingbird mind is more like a day in which the sky is overcast with gray clouds. Again the clouds represent thoughts and while they still obscure everything else in the sky, the thoughts they represent are not as dark and intense as those in a thunderstorm. There are scattered showers, but these do not represent the kind of emotional arousal represented by lightning, nor are there powerful impulses released as represented earlier by thunder.

3. Teflon Mind

Teflon mind is like a clear day with a blue sky punctuated by white clouds drifting slowly across the sky. The clouds represent thoughts that gently arise into untroubled awareness, represented by the blue sky, and then recede out of the field of awareness.

4. Natural Mind

Natural mind is like a pristine blue sky without a cloud in sight. Wisps of thin, white clouds appear from time to time and are all but obscured by the brilliant blue sky.

Practically everyone has experienced all the points on the above continuum. The difference between the typical person and experienced meditators is the relative amount of time spent at different points. This is illustrated below.


The typical person is predisposed to become absorbed in the clouds (thoughts). Meditators wait patiently for the mind to clear and present a break in the clouds and then focus their awareness, not on the clouds but on the clear sky. The goal of most meditators is to spend as much time as possible in or near the Natural Mind end of the continuum.

The typical person who is absorbed in his or her thoughts almost always believes that the thoughts represent the self. That is, typically one identifies with one’s thoughts and believes that one’s self is defined by one’s thoughts. Meditators, however, come to realize that, unless directed at some specific task, their thoughts arise and subside on their own schedule and with no specific purpose. They just are. Thus, experienced meditators have learned to become absorbed in awareness of the present moment and to be a mere observer of the parade of thoughts arising and subsiding in their consciousness.

The critical question for anyone who has experienced being simply an observer of their thoughts is, Who is doing the observing? It clearly can’t be the thoughts observing themselves. This recognition negates the belief that one is one’s thoughts. So, Who are you?

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