Deflecting Thoughts

A story is told of a great swordsman in a duel with an archer. The archer would shoot an arrow at the swordsman, and each time the swordsman would deflect the arrow with his sword. This happened time after time. As the archer ran short of arrows he risked being killed by the swordsman. At this point the archer's wife distracted the swordsman and the archer found his target.

We might find some lesson in this story, but it is shared here as a metaphor for a particularly challenging meditation practice. This meditation is not recommended for the beginner, because it is difficult and might bring discouragement. When you have learned the basics of meditation and had some success focusing and quieting the mind, you might try this for brief periods.

After warming up with meditation practices such as counting the breath and observing thoughts as they arise without clinging to them, shift to the practice of deflecting thoughts as they arise in the mind. As the swordsman knocked aside the arrows before they struck him, intend to deflect each thought as it begins to come at you. As a thought begins to form, push it aside before it fully forms. Stay rooted in a calm, focused state while you watch for movement of the mind. Distractions will arise, but seek not to be drawn away by them. This takes powerful concentration. A benefit of the practice is that it may improve your ability to concentrate, which is necessary for effective meditation.

You may find this practice of deflecting thoughts takes a lot of energy, so don't overdo it. Try it for 5 to 15 minutes and then take a break or switch to a less taxing practice. Some people may become stirred up by this exercise. Others will find it stimulating but calming. If all goes well, you may find yourself in a very still, very alert state of mind.

A random thought that should probably have been deflected:

Give a hungry man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and you give him negative karma for killing fish.

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© 2005 Tom Barrett