I want briefly to frame our discussions for today. You’ll remember that we’ve been talking about paying attention—this is the chief method for dealing with our mental games. — Exercises in Mind Emptying.
Never Ignore Your Mind
The Sludge Lagoon
It is important to remember that mental games are not optional, and the best we can ever hope for is a bit of peace of mind, through focused attention and meditation.
Indeed, this is the point of passive meditation.
Passive Meditation Stills the Mind…briefly
Often connected to a ‘mind focus,’ passive meditation is also called, in Zen, Zazen, or simply sitting. One Zen Sensei I know was discussing counting breaths as a way of meditating. She said, “It seems simple… count your breaths on the out breath. When you reach 10, start again. If, while counting, you distract yourself with a thought, start counting again.”
She paused. “In 20 years of doing this, I have often reached 6…”
The Joy of Simple Presence
Zen is concerned with one thing only. It is living with simple presence, or “being present.” The idea is, again, alarmingly simple.
- There is a ‘real’ world of which we are a part. It has no intrinsic meaning, and is therefore ’empty’ of meaning.
- We interact with everything through our senses. We’ve mentioned this before. Sensory data also has no meaning.
- We interpret the sensory data. Thus, the world you perceive is not the world—the world you perceive is your interpreted version of the world. Our interaction with ‘the world, then, is always subjective, as we take the raw data and judge (interpret) it.
Zen Masters (and quantum physicists) say that we can never know, nor prove, objective reality. Everything we interact with is filtered by our subjective experience.
Why Meditation (and life) is a Challenge
The simple task of ‘just sitting’ becomes endlessly complex, as our minds start prattling on. “I wonder how I’m doing. My foot is cramped. The woman next to me is pretty. I wonder when lunch is, and what we’ll be eating. I wonder what time it is.”
And then we take another breath, and start counting at 1.
I started today’s article with a video on Sludge Ponds. I was amazed to come across that one, as it fits so perfectly. Like it or not, Waste Treatment Plants deal with human waste. In the past, we buried it, thinking “out of sight, out of mind.” No longer. We have come to see that our crap is always with us, and a more natural approach was required, allowing nature to slowly transform the crap into something useful. Nice analogy for all of the mind-chatter, isn’t it?
The goal is not to stop the internal chatter.
(Hint: you can’t. No one can.)
The goal is to notice it as it arises, and to get to a place where we ‘simply notice’ without following the thought.
This is actually a great improvement, and a worthy life-goal.
When I begin to get a handle on the way my mind works, I can get over myself, stop blaming, and let my thoughts come and go. As I do this, I begin to perceive at more depth. As I do this, I begin to let go of my attachments to my judgements, my games, and my avoidance.
About Active Meditation
This is the goal of active meditation, and R.A.I.N.
I mentioned R.A.I.N. last article, and it bears repeating, in short form.
Recognition is being aware that my mind is doing its thing. Mostly we talk to ourselves (in various voices, but it’s all us) continually, and the voices lead us in directions we might not consciously choose. So, if I learn to pay attention to my mind-voices, I can ‘simply listen.’
A is for acceptance. What normally happens is the voice starts blaming, for example. We tune in after a while, having subconsciously heard the judgements. We start off, then, in a disadvantaged state, and we buy in to the concocted story. “YES! Just like normal, it’s all my husband’s fault. He is mean and cruel and never lets me do what I want. And besides, all he wants is sex.”
The acceptance piece is: “Wow. I almost lost it there. I am frustrating myself because I judge that my husband is not acting right. I was going to blame him, and I just remembered it’s me getting me upset.”
In other words, acceptance is taking total self responsibility for all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. (Boy, I see you cringing out there, having to accept acceptance…) Every single thought, emotion, and reaction I have is me, doing me. No one makes feel, act, or think. Acceptance is coming to terms with how what I do, think, and say is the sole determinant of, well, me. If you want to know why you are miserable, I have a 100% accurate answer. Go look in the mirror. There stands your tormentor.
I is for investigation, and that’s what we’re talking about in today article. If I dedicate my life to watching myself play games with myself, I can also (next step) let go and make other, perhaps better choices. But if I won’t investigate, I am lost in a sea of repetitive behaviour, and nothing will change.
Non-identification, or non-attachment, is the method. Once I see my mind at work, I can let go of thinking that, just because I think or have acted a certain way, that I must continue to do so. I can ‘own’ my thoughts, without identifying with them. What I soon see is that I am not a fixed persona at all, but an endlessly ongoing process. My process is experiencing, and if I simply notice, the thoughts move along of their own accord.
Exercises in Consciousness
A few articles ago I printed a few paragraphs from my book, This Endless Moment. I briefly mentioned an observation exercise. Let’s do it more formally.
I’m attempting to get you to differentiate between noticing and judging. Noticing is a cataloguing process. It’s essential. It helps us recognize, for example, threats. A hot coil on your stove is ‘the same’ as a hot coil on mine—the category matches. I don’t have to burn my hand on yours to recognize it’s ‘like’ mine.
Judgement, on the other hand, is this. “Nasty, stupid stove. That coil is out to get me, and it burned my hand intentionally. If only I had better parents, I would live in a world where I never burned myself. Besides, if people loved me they’d see to it that I never got burned.” (Metaphorically, too, I suppose.)
The mind loves its stories, and your mind is yours. As you notice your mind’s games, more and more you can detach from the story and return to the category. “Is this something I must do something about, and if so, what might that action be?” Do you see how different this is from, “Crap like this always happens to me. I am a poor, helpless victim.”
In Zen, we say that victims
are always self-made.
You should, by this point, feel a relief and release. The feeling, the judgement, is just as transient as all thought, providing you do not latch on to it. You begin to see that it is a ‘passing thought’ and by definition, something you have, and then do not. It is like your breath. You breathe in air, exhale air, and it flows through you, but it is not you.
What IS you is the process—breathing.
So, your thoughts are not you. What IS you is the process—thinking.
Play with this for a while, and watch as your mind tries to convince you that your thoughts are real. Smile, and let each go. And notice, as you do, what is happening in the here and now. Life, events, processes, coming into being, and folding into themselves. Nothing lasts.
One thing, and one thing, and one thing.
This is Zen.