Welcoming Reality with Kindness and Truth. This work is a direct way of seeing through misidentifications and unhelpful habits in the mind.
When learning meditation, we’re taught don’t fight with the mind. It’s the nature of one layer of the mind to think. One benefit of being aware of the breath, focusing the mind with the flow of so-ham or a personal mantra is to shift our focus. To allow thought to be there as it is and to pay attention to something deeper.
Most people (in the West at least) have developed a compulsion around thinking. The mind is so busy and so absorbing we’re addicted. Thought is running the show. We believe almost every thought that comes into the mind without challenging it to see if it’s true. Then we act on them as though they are true. Eg Life should be fair. I deserve to be happy. My mind should be quieter in meditation.
One of the consequences of over-identification with this layer of discursive mind is that it obscures the vast depths, wisdom and knowing of the rest of the mind. We become entranced with the fancy footwork in the light and sound show.
Because of obsessive interest in the personal story created by thought, we begin to believe the thought stream is who we really are. We neatly place memories and images along a time line, helping to solidify the sense of my thoughts are ‘me’. We negotiate and try to manipulate our thought-based life into creating a sense of personal safety and happiness. We spin tales of what happened, how dare they, what if and I don’t think I can stand it if this or that situation occurs. We create mental images of the only acceptable future events and thoughts, as though we can control the outcome if we only rehearse the scene enough.
We pay so much attention on this layer of thought that it’s familiarity feels ‘like me’. All or most of our time is spent here in the abstract and it becomes critically important what happens here. We feel we need things to be a certain way and resist anything that doesn’t comply.
Let’s broaden our perspective of who we are to include more than the layer of thought in the mind. We’re not denying it, we’re simply noticing the context in which thought comes and goes. Some words people use to describe the field in which thought appears are Consciousness, the Ground of Being, Awareness, God, Presence, Creator. They all point to something greater than thought, something timeless, that feels the same when we’re five years or eighty-five years old, male or female, sick or in good health. This vast spacious Awareness is who we really are and always have been.
One of the first things we learn in meditation is to correct unhealthy habits we’ve developed around the breath. Tension builds in the body over the years and restricts the natural flow of smooth, diaphragmatic breath. By paying attention and relaxing the body, we allow a healthy breathing pattern to reemerge. A similar process of attention and willingness can help correct misidentification with the thought layer in the mind.
When we resist allowing life to be as it actually is, we get a reaction in the body. Instead of trying to control, reject or distract ourselves from whatever caused the reaction, we learn to sit with the body energy/ sensation, interested, curious, respectful until we see why it’s there. Images and memories come up and we look at them then come back into experiencing the sensation in the body.
Many people use thought as a protection against experiencing life. When we’re stressed, frequency and compulsiveness around thought ramps up. Often our defense mechanisms started when we were children and were scared, vulnerable, not valued, not seen, bullied or not getting our basic needs met. This basic turning away from life develops into the need for distractions ranging from television to shoe shopping or video games. It can manifest in process addictions like working all the time or the zing of a juicy bit of gossip or substance addictions from pizza to cocaine. The common base of all these strategies is the need to ‘take the edge off’ of life. We feel there is something wrong. That we’re broken or somehow unworthy. Life is too hard. I’ll be hurt. I won’t be able to handle it.
Can we actually know what is going to happen? We anxiously try to predict the future based on fear and memory of the past and all within the context of trying to negotiate an outcome. We hold an image in which everything will be all right and we will feel safe. We then try to make life match the image in the mind, which of course it rarely does.
There is nothing wrong with life or with us. Human existence has many joys and challenges. We’re here to enjoy, learn and grow. There is a built-in tyranny in expecting life to arrange itself so we always feel safe and happy. What would happen if we accept life exactly as it is?
On a practical level, we have many clues and tools to help us drop these unhelpful mental habits and misidentification. The body tells us when we’re resisting. Notice when tension arises because it is always in response to something we think should be different. Stay with the sensation, without needing it to go away or change.
Allow yourself to have the experience you are having. Observe thoughts and images that arise with compassion and interest. Once seen, they release. Over time, just like we were able to establish smooth easy diaphragmatic breath, the compulsive identification with thought drops and we are free to enjoy all of life. As it is.