Sunday, 29 May 2011

My Experience with Meditation: Disciplining Your Thoughts

Meditation is, as far as I can tell, about being in the present. Since no two moments are alike, every meditation will be different. And yes, this can be a pain in the backside. I thought I had “cracked it”, that I had found a nice cushy way of meditating and “doing it right”. No such luck. There doesn’t seem to be much in terms of technique, and so you are never going to have the same experience twice, or arrive to the same place. What follows is a type of “framework” for interacting with my thoughts which I found useful at the beginning.

It’s all about seeing your thoughts as children. This may not be such a far stretch as we think. After all, people often refer to their ideas as their “brainchild”. So, imagine every thought you have as a child, tugging on your shirt wanting to be entertained. Except that it’s not one thought-child but many, and instead of tugging on your shirt they are throwing water balloons around the house. And they’ll carry on doing it until you pay attention to them. So you rush to pay attention to one while another is already filling up more water balloons. Pretty soon the house is a mess and you are at your wits ends.

So what do you do? Well, you calmly and politely tell them to wait; you say “not now, I’m busy at the moment”. Your thoughts are like attention seeking little devils who want to have their way now.

That is what I've learned through meditation: how to discipline your thoughts so that they know when it’s right for them to be entertained and when it’s not.

After meditation, you can sit down with a piece of paper and say to your thoughts “ok, I’m ready to listen to you now, what is it that you wanted to say?”. Then you discover that a lot of thoughts just wanted to be acknowledged, so that by looking at them and letting them know you have noticed their presence, they just disappear.  Which can be  disappointing, if, like me, you were hoping for some enriching “ranting”, I mean, “enlightening exchange of ideas”.
See, it takes more effort to have them running around demanding your attention while you try to keep the house from collapsing. If you learn to make space for the thoughts to be listened to when you are ready, then both of you can interact in a way that is of most benefit to everyone.

I feel this approach might be more useful than the traditional Buddhist “thoughts don’t matter, try to disintegrate them, but kindly”. If thoughts don’t matter, then why are they there? Why am I having them? This principle leaves me feeling like a numpty for daring to think what I think. And that’s where I draw the line, because I like my thoughts. That is why I think them. That is why I created them.

What I want is to make them “work for their keep”, in other words, I want to interact with them when I can turn them into political writing. What I don’t want is for them to invade and colonize my mind so that I’m thinking about the merits of my race, and its political implications while I’m having a shower. I don’t want to wax non-lyrically about the bullying tactics of the Right while I’m about to do my meditation.

Because yes, that is what my mind entertains itself with, most of the time.

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