Moving On: Meditation Lesson 6
So by now perhaps if you've tried to sit still and tune into yourself, you've probably discovered you're flooded by a thick, unending torrent of thoughts. They just keep coming. Some people find this discovery scary: they think it just happened and now they're going to drown, not realizing this gusher is nothing new at all. It's has been their norm forever.
Finally seeing it is cause for celebration. Knowledge is power. This is to say: now that we know we're haplessly whooshing around in these rushing rivers of thought, we can do something to bring ourselves under control. We can tone them down. We can slow them down. We can ignore them all together, turning off the refrigerator hum white noise they generate to continually distract us from what's really happening.
We have to start by really tuning in to this torrent of thoughts in full HD mode. That's the meditation practice. Watch those thoughts streaming by. The textbooks urge us to scan, to scrutinize, to search for a gap, any gap between them. That's what we want: that emptiness.
Personally, at first this instruction did not resonant with me. I found it easier to get closer to the truth this way: when you are sitting still tuned into your current of thoughts, think of yourself as river or ocean side watching thick schools of fish swim by. You want one: you just gotta have one in passing, maybe just to show somebody else what you saw. So you cast a reel to catch one. As hundreds of fish go on by, you hook one. Now it's yours. What happens?
Several obvious things. While you're now busy unhooking, bagging and admiring your prize fish, you can't notice lots of new ones swimming by. You're stuck on that old fish. And now that it's out of place, it's out of energy. It's dead and soon it's going to stink. All it can maybe do now is feed you alone, getting you even more bound up to it. The current is carrying more and more fish by you, but you're too hooked on what happened five minutes ago to be part of what's happening now. That's how it is when we pick a thought and hold onto it.
This is the secret of all that stuck thinking in the news headlines, pundit bloviations, Facebook pages and internet rants coming at us every minute. People are hanging onto one idea or another that comforts them. They can't let go, can't move on. Think of it this way: 200 years ago there was no Hollywood. That was an idea that arose and lots of people grabbed on. Then a new thought arose: television. Later VCRs, computers, then live streaming... each thought giving way to another like vinyl records to CDs to iTunes. Yet those financially attached to one thought or other---movies, CDs, cable boxes--desperately try to keep promoting their "thing", holding on tighter and tighter as the current of new events rushes past. We fool ourselves into thinking now is forever. It's only now. and by the time you've read that, it's not that now anymore. It's all new and different.
It's useful to turn this idea of go with the flow to ourselves, or what we think of as ourselves. Remember that exercise about the "bigger" finger? Well, who--as the Cheshire Cat said to Alice--are you? A baby? A child? Someone's child? A student? A parent? An employee? A boss? A citizen? A neighbor? An athlete? A tourist? A senior citizen? A basket case? Who are you? Can you pick one idea and stick with it? Or is your identity as fluid as a river's current? Does it depend like the finger trick on who's standing next to you? Who are you for sure ? Can you pinpoint someone fixed?
Perhaps you've heard of that age-old phenomenon: the idée fixe, fixed idea? It's a thought people won't let go of because their entire identity is bound up to it like a tent which will collapse without its stake post. A perfect example would be the Catholic Church insisting the sun orbits around the Earth and killing everyone who disagreed or proved them wrong. You could say religious fundamentalists are chained like a dog to an idée fixe, barking, growling and snapping at anyone who comes near it. Sometimes, less obviously, we are like that, clinging to and cherishing one idea or other about ourselves or our world. That's an enormous cause of suffering that this practice can liberate us from.
So now is the time to sit still and watch yourself in action, either catching yourself hooking onto a passing thought which leads to another and another until you're far from where you are, or finding that elusive gap the texts talk about, that emptiness between spasms of thought, the space where you can shift your own gears and use the practice as a paddle that steers you over the current. If you do it with diligence and patience, the thought torrent becomes a trickle, or as the late Trungpa Rinpoche put it: the huge breakers that were knocking you over become a gentle ooze around your ankles as you stand tall.
May all beings be freed from the causes of their suffering.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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