I joined a meditation course last month. Our teacher told us that meditation is not about sitting quietly with an empty mind. It’s about becoming aware of the thoughts our mind is producing. More accurately, it is about becoming aware that our mind is thinking at all, rather than the thoughts themselves. Once we become aware, it’s about refocusing our mind by counting our breaths. The counting serves as a simple, purposeful thought designed to help draw the mind away from its random, unfocused ramblings. With awareness we can redirect it to something more useful, more helpful, more constructive. In short, we can think what we want.
And it works. Here are two examples:
Leaving my apartment last week, I caught my mind telling me the event I was attending was going to be difficult; I would feel uncomfortable and fraught with social anxieties. It came from nowhere, as those thoughts always do, but with a subtlety and familiarity that made detection more difficult. Indeed, I only noticed it halfway through its first echo. When I realised what was happening, I told myself the event would be fine and I’d be okay. I felt better instantly. And the evening was an enjoyable one.
Cycling to an appointment on Monday, my mood was already dampened by the rain and I noticed how ready I was to blame others for incidents which hadn’t even happened yet. A car reversing out ahead of me triggered my mind to conclude, ‘If he isn’t paying attention he’s going to… and then I’ll be really angry….’. Instead of indulging in such fantasies, I told myself it will all be fine. It will all be fine. As I did, I noticed not just a mental change but also a bodily shift as if a heaviness had been washed away. It made me wonder how long I had carried such a habit and weight with me.
And then I remembered the entry, ‘Imagined & Real‘ from August 2000 which describes similar problems. I have made progress since then although it may not seem so on first examination, because the examples are almost identical. What’s important, however, is that my responses are different. The gaps between thought, awareness and action are much smaller and are reducing all the time. Progress. Inch by inch.
And here are another two versions of the same scenarios. They both occurred last night and they show that the more heightened the awareness and the more determined the action, the greater the progress:
Yesterday I went out to meet up with a group of coaches I had never met before. As I set off I felt the usual feelings and heard the familiar voice telling me I’d be out of my comfort zone. Having spent the day composing this post I was more aware of my mind and I countered it with intentions of doing everything I could to make the most of the situation. On arrival I instigated more contact than I would normally do. Much more. My decisiveness was rewarded as I met an engaging, open-armed group of people. The evening was a great personal success.
I left in high spirits and headed for the street-level train station. I was only feet away from the level crossing when the barriers came down, blocking my path to the opposite platform. I would be forced to watch my train arrive and leave without me. I felt the edge of annoyance lingering, inviting me to indulge. But I didn’t indulge. Instead, I phoned the most positive person I know to tell her I’d be late. Actually, I called to share with her what I was about to go through and so distance myself from the temptation to become irritated.
As we talked the train arrived. It stood across from me, passengers disembarking and boarding on its blind side. But it didn’t leave. The barriers lifted. I hurried across the tracks, onto the platform and onto the train, barely able to believe my good fortune. But then I thought about this post and realised just how much progress can be made with awareness. I had felt the old patterns, refocused and, for the second time that night, reaped the unexpected reward of my effort.
We need all the help we can get sometimes. Our mind so often does what it wants. For life’s winners the mind runs suitable programmes, producing enough of the right thoughts such as, ‘You can do this‘ or ‘Give it a go, who cares if you fail?‘, or ‘Whatever happens, you’ll be okay‘. For the rest of us it can be a daily battle because our mind seems like our worst enemy, undermining us at every opportunity, often without us realising.
Next time you notice your mind telling you things about yourself which are not supportive, helpful or encouraging, redirect it onto something very simple such as counting each time you breathe out. In time you’ll be introducing it to more involved and more favourable thoughts. And before you know it you’ll find that you can think whatever you want.