The best meditation instructions begin at the beginning. Please click here for the first article in the series.
Working with thoughts and the thinking mind
Many of us wish to have a simple life free of complications, struggle, anxiety, fear, and a slow internet connection. But it is not often our experience and we wonder how to obtain a harmonious life. Something is obstructing us, getting in the way. When I discuss this topic with friends it often goes like this:
Friend: “Something is getting in the way of my being able to just relax. Sometimes I just hate myself.“
Me: “Maybe its your thoughts that get in the way.“
Friend: “So what’s wrong with thoughts?“
Friend: “But didn’t you just say that thoughts are bad?!“
Me: “No, they seem to get in the way, that’s different.“
Friend: So what’s your point?“
Me: “Thoughts are what block us, but we can’t get rid of them, and suppressing them doesn’t help either. We identify ourselves too much with our thoughts, thinking they are Me. What we have to do is change our relationship to them. We take our thoughts too seriously, but we think, “She takes herself too seriously.”
Leaving thoughts alone
Allowing your thoughts in is a good beginning for unconditional self-acceptance. You make friends with yourself by giving yourself the luxury of witnessing thoughts coming and going. You don’t want to block, bottle up, or get rid of thoughts. You’re dancing and your dance partner is the ebb and flow of constantly changing experience. Thoughts are the only stuff you have to work with.
The best meditation instructions: treat all thoughts equally
The final instruction on mindfulness meditation is to mentally label thoughts “thinking.” You are simplifying your problematic thought process by regarding whatever happens, whatever explodes or bubbles up in your mind, as just thinking. Labeling thoughts “thinking” is like wearing good outdoor clothing. Whether it’s hot or cold, rainy or sunny, windy or calm, it is all just weather, and you can just be in it and see it for what it is. You are witnessing your mind and thought processes without judgment, and by doing so, you begin to relax with yourself. These are the best meditation instructions: developing equanimity towards yourself.
The KEY instruction in meditation practice (not in daily life) is to regard all thoughts, whatever happens, whatever you see, hear or feel, as just thinking, and you come back to the breath. Even if you find that you have wandered away from the breath for the whole meditation session, no problem. You’re back, mentally label it “thinking,” and return to the out-breath.
Which Thoughts Do I Label “Thinking”?
– Little thoughts about ants or big thoughts about the universe
– Feeling enraged, passionate or uncaring
– Pasta recipes
– 1 single thought about grasshoppers or a long series of thoughts about your favorite television series
– Evil thoughts of revenge
– Completely beautiful thoughts of a tropical paradise
– Thoughts about sex
– Thoughts about blowing up the _____ .
– Thoughts about why am I sitting here like an idiot when I could be doing something useful
– Thoughts about this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’m going to do a long retreat in a cave and never come out until I attain a body of light
– My #%@!ing back hurts
– Thoughts about sex
– Feelings of the body, seeing colors and shapes, beautiful sounds, tastes
– Insightful thoughts where you start connecting the dots and make sense of it all
– Any experience you might have
Remind yourself sometimes that you are not trying to get rid of thoughts by labeling them. You are also not trying to bypass or dismiss your experience. Rather you are cultivating in yourself the wisdom of equality: the best meditation instructions. No thought deserves a medal or trash can.