Welcome to week three!
This week we are going to focus on mindfulness of the mind: thoughts and emotions. These objects of mindfulness can be more subtle and fleeting, as is especially the case with thoughts. Whether thoughts or emotions, we tend to identify with them a lot. As much as we identify our true selves with our bodies, we tend to do that a lot more with our minds. We might hit an elbow and say “My elbow hurts” but we are unlikely to say, “I am a sore elbow.” But if we experience sadness, guilt, anger, we are much more likely to build a whole self image around that, “I am such an angry person and I always will be.”
Our goal is not to wipe out thoughts and emotions, not even very negative or painful ones. We couldn’t succeed at that even if we tried. Our goal is to establish a more spacious relationship to them, so that we are empowered. We have a choice in that space: for example, “Do I really want to send this exact email?” if we have no space, we have pressed send even before we recognize we are angry.
I once received a wonderful piece of advice from my meditation teacher Munindra-ji. I went to him very upset about something—I’m not quite sure I even remember what. I just wanted someone to talk to. In response, he looked at me very calmly and asked, “Why are you so upset about the thoughts coming up in your mind? Did you invite them? Did you say, ‘At 3:15 I’d like to be filled with self-judgment?’”
Written down, these questions seem facetious or even sarcastic—but Munindra-ji was being earnest. We can blame ourselves so harshly (as I was doing) for things we cannot control, rather than being empowered by what we can control – how we relate to those thoughts that have arisen in our minds. He was urging me towards letting go of blaming myself and picking up the transformation
The work is to not fall into and be dominated by every thought and emotion that arises, and also not to push against them and dislike or fear what we are feeling or thinking. Mindfulness avoids both of these extremes. Instead we can have a balanced and interested relationship towards all that arises. We can have more compassion for ourselves with more negative or painful states, and actually notice and enjoy more pleasant states, instead of being so distracted we hardly take them in and appreciate them.
If at any time it feels too ephemeral or ungrounded, it’s perfectly fine to go back to mindfulness of the body. It’s not regressive to do so. We’re just trying to cover the scope of where mindfulness can touch and improve our lives.