Day 18 Meditation
Today we return to working with thoughts arising in the mind, and working with mindfulness to notice when you are pushing away the thoughts or being hijacked by them. Today’s practice is like taking a seat by the river and observing the thoughts passing by. Some thoughts pass by so silently that you will barely notice them, while some are so unpleasant that your attention turns away from them, and others are so compelling that they hijack your attention altogether to carry you far down the river.
As a habit, certain thought patterns arise that we tend to get lost in, overcome by, defined by, even as we resent or fear them. Once we recognize them, we can remind ourselves that these are just visiting forces – they are not essentially who we are. We can’t stop them from visiting, but we can learn to let them go.
Meditation isn’t self-indulgent or self-centered. Yes, you’ll learn about yourself— but it’s knowledge that will help you better understand and connect with people in your life. Tuning in to yourself is the first step toward tuning in to others.
Question & Answer
Q: If I stay in the moment, how do I plan for the future? If I accept whatever thought or feeling comes up, how do I keep from being totally passive?
A: Some people fear that if they develop the capacity for mindfulness, if they become proficient in the practice of meditation, everything in their lives will become a dull gray blob. They think mindfulness might lead to just looking at life rather than being actively involved in life . This is not so. Mindfulness brings us closer and closer to the natural properties of any moment, any experience — what it looks and feels like without any of our add-ons. This doesn’t mean we lose our ability to differentiate between what we like and what we don’t. But we do come to understand how much our own worldview affects what we make of each experience, and how the same experience might be interpreted very differently by another person. We still react to things — but consciously, knowing what we’re doing when we’re doing it.
And being mindful of the moment doesn’t mean that we give up savoring memories or setting goals. I like to quote Thich Nhat Hanh: “To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future,” he says. “The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”
The more intimately and directly that we connect with our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the more powerfully proactive we become — because we can make informed, better choices, and not just be driven by un-examined habits.
Welcome back. Today we’re going to continue to explore working with our thoughts. Please sit comfortably, with either your eyes closed or slightly open, however you feel most at ease. See what thoughts may be present in your awareness. Allow yourself to notice thoughts arising as events in the mind.
Experience thoughts coming and going in each moment without pushing them away or being carried off by them. Experience thoughts like clouds passing through the open sky of your awareness, some heavy and thunderous, some light and airy. Be aware of them all, exploring with gentle interest and curiosity.
Perhaps it may be helpful to experience thoughts as boats passing along a river. Some passing so silently that you barely notice, some so unpleasant that your attention turns away, others so compelling that they hijack your attention and carry you far down the river. Explore the thoughts arising in the mind, noticing when you’re pushing away or being hijacked. And coming back again and again to mindfulness, taking a seat by the river, observing thoughts passing by.
As a habit, certain thought patterns arise that we tend to get lost in, overcome by, defined by, even as we resent or fear them. We can retrain our whole mental attitude by first learning to recognize these patterns, and perhaps even calmly naming them. Oh, here’s the pattern of thinking everything is wrong, the pattern of thinking I’m a failure, the pattern of thinking I’m a bad mother or father. Once we recognize them, we can remind ourselves that these are just visiting; they’re not essentially who we are. We couldn’t stop them from visiting, but we can let them go. Even if they return a thousand times a session, they still have the same nature. They’re visiting. We don’t have to invite them to move in. We don’t have to blame ourselves for their coming, and we can learn to let them go.
And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes. Even after you’ve finished this formal session of practice, explore bringing this skill of gentle interest, curiosity, and attention into your encounters throughout the day. Remember, what am I feeling right now. What does it feel like? What thoughts are arising as events in the mind? Am I pushing away or being carried off by emotion or thought? We can return again and again to this awareness.