Where have my thoughts gone?
I had them just before.
I let them loose a moment
And they scuttled out the door.
My mind’s a blank slate again,
A state I just adore.
And all I did was sit and breathe
With my cushion on the floor.
Thoughts may be mundane or magnificent, lovely or troubling. Mostly, they are persistent. In normal consciousness, our minds are abuzz with thoughts. We think about the past, present, and future. We remember, evaluate, worry, fantasize, calculate, plan, describe, theorize, rehearse, and probably worry some more. With all that mental activity we may never relax, and we may over-identify with our thoughts.
We are more than just our thoughts. We are also more than just our body. It is difficult to see this in the choppy seas of our thinking mind. Meditation helps us settle the mind, so that the waves of thought grow calm. In this calm we can see the true nature of mind. We can perceive our connectedness to the big picture.
To attain a calm and clear state of mind, we need not stop our thoughts. We only need to stop grasping and manipulating them. In our active life we are constantly beset by stimuli that require thought and response. When we meditate, our intent is to just sit there. We don’t need to respond to every stimulus. If we have a thought about a person, we don’t have to evaluate that person, or examine our relationship to them, or rehearse a future conversation. If a bug lands on us we don’t need to swat it. If we hear a noise, we don’t have to investigate. Thoughts and sensations will come. All we need do is notice them and let them go.
Thoughts are like clouds that appear in the sky. They don’t require us to do anything about them. We can observe them and let them pass. You may say to yourself, "There’s a thought," just like you might say, "There is a cloud." You don’t need to classify the cloud, or think about what it looks like. It is just there, and in a little while it won’t be there. You don’t need to do anything with thoughts, and if you don’t do anything, in time, they will drop away.
With persistent practice of letting go of our thoughts, our mind becomes calmer. The racket in our brains settles down. We may see the nature of things more clearly. We may begin to experience greater peace of mind and be less at the mercy of our thoughts and feelings.
Meditate in a place where you won’t be disturbed by loud noise or other distractions. Seat yourself in an upright posture with your back straight and your head held high. Take a few deep, slow breaths and begin to relax your body.
Become more aware of your surroundings. Notice the sensations that come to you from your environment. Become more aware of your inner sensations. What are the feelings you have inside of you? Notice your thoughts. Thoughts and sensations will come and they will go. Let them do that.
Pay attention to your breathing. Notice the rising and falling of your breath. When you notice that thoughts have caught your attention, come back from the distraction and just focus on your breathing. If your posture begins to sag, draw yourself gently back to an upright position. Then return to observing your breath.
In time your mind will quiet itself. Be patient. Don’t expect immediate results. Just practice. Work up to sessions of 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. Remember to be kind to yourself. Remember to practice diligently.
© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett