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Pruning Your Thinking Mind - How reducing your cluttered thoughts makes you feel better

At our homestead here in Vermont, it’s time to prune fruit trees. Every year while the trees are dormant we cut selected branches off. While this may seem an unlikely way to help it grow, it’s essential for the health and productivity of the tree.

In just the same way, pruning your thinking mind is essential to maintain your energy and well-being. When your thinking mind goes unchecked or unnoticed, you are like a wild apple tree whose branches are thick and tangled. Your thoughts stray in all directions at once and you lack clarity and focus. Your energy is diminished and it’s difficult to care for yourself or get things done.

An unpruned fruit tree overburdened with excessive crossing branches
An upruned fruit tree at Sky Meadow Retreat. Notice the cluttered, crossing branches.

Pruning your thinking mind is relatively simple, but usually quite difficult because it requires you to cut off thoughts and let them go. If you have ever pruned a tree, you know that it can be hard to cut those branches and discard them. Each cut is final, and it can seem like you are diminishing the tree.

A few months later, however, when the tree is growing again, you see that it is more alive and vigorous than ever. In a similar way, your mind becomes more clear, strong, and vital when you learn to let go of thoughts that don’t serve you.

Which Thoughts Do I Let Go?

In pruning a tree it is important to know which branches to cut off and which ones to leave. In working with your thinking mind, this discernment is more difficult, but as in tree pruning, there are principles you can follow to help you choose. When pruning a tree you are directing the vital energy of that tree so it flows without blockage to the branches you want to encourage.

In pruning your mind, you can use the same principle. You allow thoughts going in a direction you want to encourage, and cut off the ones going in a direction you that you don’t. So, how do you tell which is which?

A pruned Honeycrisp apple tree with branches carefully pruned and living next to a cob house
A beautifully pruned Honeycrisp apple tree. Branches are spaced to allow light and air to the ripening fruit. Decluttering results in larger, more nutritious fruit and reduced disease.

In the practice of Insight Meditation, from the 2,500 year old Theravadin Buddhist tradition, the directions are simply to let go of all conceptual thought. At first this may seem extreme, and impossible to do, however, with practice you begin to see the wisdom and efficiency behind this method.

This way of pruning your thinking mind by cutting off all conceptual thoughts is similar to how we prune our grapes here at the Sky Meadow homestead. We cut off all new branches, leaving only the older, thicker ones with mature bark. The plant looks devastated when we are done, but the growth of the new branches explodes every summer, yielding hundreds of healthy bunches of deep purple grapes.

One way to describe what is happening when we prune our grapes is that we are restoring the plants to their primary roots and trunk. In the same way, when you practice letting go of all thoughts that come into your mind, you are gradually restoring your mind to its original source.

Meditation is a method of letting go of thoughts as you become aware of them, and bringing your attention back to the simple bodily sensations of breathing. Instead of becoming engaged with a thought, you learn to notice it and gently let it go. In this way, you are pruning your thinking mind.

A closeup of an unpruned fruit tree with crossing branches
Our busy thoughts steal our energy and distract us from what we really want

This is hard at first because you treasure your thoughts and are attached to them. However, it gets easier the more you do it, and the result of steady practice is that you begin to experience the source of energy at the root of your mind. Instead of your mind being filled with thought all the time, spaces open up in which you can feel consciousness itself. As you get used to the spaciousness of present awareness with no thoughts taking your attention, you recognize this as your essence.

Clearing your mind of thoughts in this way enables you to experience yourself on a deeper level, where the energy of life originates. You begin to recognize that you are not your thoughts, but instead are the unlimited field of consciousness itself. As you become still inside and feel life pulsing through you, this vital energy increases and you feel calm, centered, content, and alive.

Freeing Your Vital Energy

Practicing letting go of thought in this way enables pure life force to stream through you unfettered. Instead of using your mind as a thinking device, you learn to use it as a means to be present and aware of the vibration of life. The more you pay attention to your experience of the present moment, instead your thoughts about it, this vibration turns into a hum and you begin feel it everywhere.

Close up of a well pruned Honeycrisp apple tree with well spaced branches leading away from the central trunk
Through Insight Meditation we prune unnecessary thoughts, bringing clarity and insight.

The beautiful result is that you are connected to the source of life again. You know it is real because you can feel it, and it makes you feel good for no particular reason. This presence of mind brings you back into integrity with yourself and the universe around you, and your world begins to make sense again.

Instead of choosing which thoughts to process, you engage the root or main trunk of your mind. This produces a clarity of mind that allows for singular insights or revelations to occur to you. These epiphanies are like a light bulb going off inside your head. They can be life-changing realizations that inspire and direct you. They are your inner knowing revealing itself.

You will recognize insights when they occur to you because they are not the product of logic, reasoning, or sequencing thoughts. They seem to happen spontaneously and arrive fully formed, as a vision or picture perhaps even more than words. What is happening is that you are seeing something from an entirely new angle, and this new perspective enables you to change your relationship to that person, situation or thing.

The clarity of mind that enables these powerful insights is the part of your mind you want to keep and nourish so it can grow stronger. Pruning away the plethora of trivial thoughts constantly flooding your mind clears the channels so you can see things from a larger perspective. And as you begin to see the big picture, the meaning and purpose of your life reveals itself and you gain energy, clarity, wisdom, and serenity.

A good way to begin or continue this process of pruning your thinking mind is to do an intensive meditation retreat. We have a 5 day self directed Insight Meditation retreat coming up at Sky Meadow for experienced meditators April 21 – 26. Visit our website Practical Presence with Miles Sherts for more information.


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