Thursday, 19 May 2011

My Experience With Meditation: Identifying Your Thoughts

a.k.a.: in which you discover that my mind is actually quite shallow.

After I became aware of the fact that my mind is was of thoughts buzzing on an almost constant basis, I realised something even worse: none of these thoughts had anything to do with me. My mind was busily considering ideas and thoughts that were not related to me or my life in any way.

The first kind of thought I flagged as “non mine” was tv related. This came as a shock, and a very uncomfortable one at that. I realized, painfully, that a lot of my thoughts came straight from things I’ve seen on the telly. Oh, the shame! And here I was thinking my mind was so pure from all the telly-nonsense!

After that one, came the other big type of thought that had nothing to do with me: politics. I realized my mind spends about ninety percent of its time thinking about the system, economics, patriarchy, politicians, the welfare state, the state, property, labour, exploitation, alienation, commodification… I could go on. About ninety percent of the time. Most of my mind used up to think about things that have, again, nothing to do with me.

How did I approach this during meditation? Well, after I managed to create a “gap” between one thought and the other, I could sit on that gap and identify the thoughts before and after.

That gave me a sense of perspective: instead of a mind that kept going, like a ship-engine “politics, politics, politics, tv, politics, internet, politics, politics, bastards at work, politics”, my mind did this: “politics, politics, politics, tv, GAP, politics…”. Once I knew that there was a gap, where no tv, or politics, or anything else went through, I could look back at the rest of the train of thought and flag “tv” as “tv” and later on “politics” as “politics”.

If it had the “politics” flag, I would draw back to the breath and say to myself, “that is not about me”. That was the start of what I now think of as “disciplining the thoughts”.

You may wonder, why should we bother disciplining the thoughts? Simple: because it gives you clarity, it helps you think better.

In one aspect, this is somewhat instinctive: we know that if we spend time with one thought only we are going to get further than if we spend that same amount of time going backwards and forwards with dozens of different thoughts.

But it’s more than that. It’s about knowing when to think about something, and when not to. When it’s time to engage with a thought because it will be productive and when it’s time to keep a thought, or even all thoughts, at bay because you need to take a moment to just “be there”.

This is how I learnt in the first person what “mindfulness” was all about even before I had found the concept. I’ll describe it in more detail in the future, it is really important. But in short: mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment.

For now, try to think of your thoughts as children.


Mary Sunshine said...

Mary, this is *so* valuable. I'm saving it. I'd love to hear more, whenever you want to write.

Mary Tracy said...

Thank you, Mary. I've written three posts on meditation and there's another on the way. But I was beginning to wonder if anyone found them interesting enough to read.