Meditation: FREAK OUT!
Simply hearing the word makes many people tremble and quake. They say (quite understandably) “Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t stop my busy thoughts, I can’t make my mind go blank.”
Well guess what? Even those of us who have been at it for decades can’t!
And we don’t want to. It’s not the goal.
OUT TO PASTURE
Seasoned meditators don’t worry about the blank thing. They don’t expect their mind to stop. They don’t anticipate a blissful void with angel choirs in the background.
They know that thoughts are an important part of the process.
So if we’re not trying to stop the mind, what are we trying to do?
We’re trying to give the mind space, rest, pasture. And in that pasture, thoughts are grist for the mill.
DON'T GET LOST
The crucial point is not to get lost in the thoughts as they randomly come and go, as they play in the pasture. Instead, stand back: be an impartial witness.
The traditional image is that of a shepherd keeping his eye on the sheep as they roam; he doesn't seek to pen and control them.
Following your breath, let the mind think: sometimes it will be a repetitive, jumbled mess, sometimes clear and quiet. Be careful. You are the miller, not the grist. You are a bemused, non-judgmental observer.
There’s a saying from old Tibet: “What good is manure if not to fertilise sugar cane crops?” In meditation, your thoughts are the manure that transforms your experience, because they transform you. You shape-shift from being a compulsive thinker to being a spacious, kind observer. It’s liberating.
TAKE A STEP SIDEWAYS
Being a witness to your thinking mind is the big whammy, the King Kong, the vital ingredient of meditation. It’s the yeast to the bread, the blade to the knife, the tang to the tomato.
It’s the difference between meditating and daydreaming.
Being the witness, you take a step sideways. As you start to become the one watching the thoughts, you cease to be the one thinking them. You become less involved with the thinking part of the mind and identify more with the observer.
When you’re watching instead of thinking, a bright sense of expansion emerges as you sit. The witnessing stance is the mother of space and clarity.
A meditation session without thought-awareness is a dry, insufficient, unsatisfactory pursuit.
Suppressing the mind’s natural activity in meditation creates a backlog in the brain: when thoughts are ignored, it’s like unwanted visitors knocking on your door. Ignore them and they just knock louder.
But when a thought is noticed, the brain’s ‘working memory’ pops up and wipes the slate clean. Door answered, the visitors say their piece and leave.
The truth of the matter is: meditation is not about stopping the thoughts or making the mind blank. Meditation is about letting the mind be “as it is” and being present with that is-ness, instead of distracted from it.
It's being open to the mind with all its contents, warts and all, thoughts and all.
In meditation, we want our mind to express itself, play itself out, even exhaust itself. Along the way, we will gain wisdom and insight into what makes us tick. And as we follow the breath, our nervous system will stop screaming and start to sing.
So, go for the grist, seek out the pasture. In the pursuit of "is-ness", wanting a blank mind is fool’s gold.
Reference: Dr. Rick Hansen, Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. New Harbinger Publications 2009
picture: bigstock photo
and I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
Would you like to meditate but a swamp of thoughts deter you?