Meditation: "A Crock of Hooey!"

I was always drawn to the physical side of yoga. But to when it came to its more meditative aspects, I must admit I was initially put off.

I loathed classes where we were explicitly instructed to meditate, thinking "what a crock of hooey!" It just seemed so contrived, I told myself, but secretly I was resistant because I don't like doing stuff I'm bad at, and I thought that I was 'bad' at meditating. I thought it was something I just could not do, and frankly, I doubted anyone else could, either! I would roll my third eye at all those depictions of serene-looking yogis, in large part because my own mind just would not shut up.

Meditation, how to quiet the mind
Classic example of serene-looking yogi type.

The fact is that it is the nature of the mind to jump around, to wander, to grasp and play and pester and turn things over -- it's rather like a child. So for me, these days, meditation is not about trying to silence the mind, for that would be going against what it is designed to do. That would be like giving a kid a time-out in the corner - merely a temporary fix. Soon enough, that thing is going to be bouncing off the walls again.

Instead of futile and frustrating attempts to silence my mind, I'm working on simply observing it -- kind of like a nonchalant babysitter. My meditative practice has become less about stifling the motions of the mind, and more about studying them from a place of detachment. Rather than trying to make my thoughts stop coming (LOL good luck with that), I'm trying instead to witness them as they come up, one after another, remaining unattached to them rather than relating to them. Suzannah Neufeld writes, "the point of meditation is not to not think; it is to notice that we are thinking." In Awake at 3am: Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy and Early Motherhood, Neufeld works to bust the myth of a clear mind as a pre-requisite of meditation. She writes,

"You do not need to have a clear mind. No one has a clear mind. That would be of great concern and require medical attention. Even people who have meditated for years have troublesome, sticky, annoying thoughts. It's part of the deal of being human."

If we accept the inevitability of thoughts arising, we can stop beating ourselves up and get to the business of noticing them. When we give ourselves the space and the silence to really observe our thoughts, mental states, and emotions, we begin to notice how they work: their ebb and their flow, the patterns, and the story lines. When we give ourselves the space and the silence to get some objective distance from our thoughts, we may even realize that we are not our thoughts. Those troublesome things come and go, but we're still here, witnessing them.

So rather than trying to forcibly still the mind, what happens when we drop out of the mind altogether? What happens when we access that part of us below our thoughts, the deep layer that is always quiet and still, even when on the surface there is chaos? These metaphors have been made a million times, but, goddamnit, they're apt, so I'll repeat them here -- you are not your thoughts.

You are the screen, and they're the images that flicker upon it. You are the sky, the vast infinite sky, and your thoughts are merely clouds: nebulous, changing, passing, temporary. You, however, remain, even after your cloud-thoughts go. Or, you are an ocean -- vast, deep, calm, and your thoughts are just waves, stirred up by wind. No matter how choppy it is up there on the sea's surface, when you dive down deep enough, it is calm.

When we are quiet enough to hear what's going on beneath our thoughts, we might discover entire layers of ourselves hiding down there -- our deep internal seas, our vast inner oceans.

So when we sit (or swim, or paint, or swing an axe, or sing, or throw darts) in meditation, rather than trying to force the untrained mind to function against its own nature, what if we gave it permission to do its thing, and then, like the cool dudes we are, dipped down into our Secret Clubhouse? What if we ceased identifying with our passing thoughts, and got to know that part of ourselves which is eternal and equanimous, which is our 'true self' because it was always there and will always be there, long after our thoughts have come and gone, risen and fallen away, countless times? The more time we spend with our true selves, the more resilient we become against the power of our thoughts to control us, entangle and obsess us. When we can observe our those little buggers from some kind of a distance, from the objective vantage point of the true self, we can begin to notice patterns, figure out where they come from, and -- maybe -- even begin to anticipate them and dissipate them. In this way, we might begin to gently train the mind, redirecting it towards more useful ways of thinking.

In severing attachment to our thoughts, we may find that then, like bratty little kids, they'll stop bugging us, because we're no longer actively engaging with them and reacting to them. Then they can settle down and play quietly amongst themselves. There will always be thoughts twittering at the top of our minds -- that's the nature of the fancy human intellect we're all blessed and cursed with. But so too will there always be, as there always has been, a quiet place for us to retreat below.

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