“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
I think about meditation a lot, and even as I write this, I realize the irony of that statement. Still, even after a long practice, one can become “jaded” and pretty soon even your meditation sessions can come to seem like a “routine.” And that’s very ironic indeed, because if there’s anything I feel that meditation is, it’s a way or tool to break out of monotony and open out to an adventure.
So, whenever I hear or read a fresh way of describing meditation, what it is or how to do it, I thought I’d start keeping a repository in a blog post. These “fresh” ways of putting it tend to break that monotonous hold that sometimes creeps in, and gives me a fresh shot of encouragement.
“I find that I can actually get my mind to stop talking for 30 minutes…and i’m finding that it’s addicting.” – @serenadyer
“There’s only one wrong way to #meditate, and that is if you think there’s any effort involved.” – @DeepakChopra
It just occurred to me, while meditating just now, that the goal of meditation is not to get rid of your thoughts, but rather to become the observer of them. It’s like watching a play instead of being an actor. Or watching a football game instead of participating.
It’s as simple as that! I heard Deepak Chopra say,
“The ability to observe your emotions without manipulating them.”
That’s it! Just add “thoughts” to “emotions.” Thoughts and emotions are so very intertwined. These are the main activities of the thinking mind. They seem to give rise to one another. Especially if the thought is something that’s very personal or very close to your life. Or something that you’ve been in denial about that suddenly comes exploding to the surface! Then a flood of emotions can come. They seem so intertwined that sometimes that you can’t tell one from the other!
But as you practice observing your thoughts/emotions, stepping back from them, you’ll notice the first and primary benefit from meditation: Calmness.
Before your emotions had you pinned down like in a wrestling match.
But meditation, becoming the observer, helps you step back from that internal conflict and gives you the ability to relax.
“Yoga [meditation] is the (intentional) stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff.” – Yogasutras 1.2
“Throw open the gates, put self aside, bide in silence, and the radiance of the spirit shall come in and make its home.” – Kuan Tzu, P’ien 36
“When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,
When you relax your [qi ?] vital breath and expand it,
When your body is calm and unmoving:
And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances.
You will see profit and not be enticed by it,
You will see harm and not be frightened by it.
Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,
In solitude you delight in your own person.
This is called “revolving the vital breath”:
Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly.” Kuan Tzu (24, tr. Roth 1999:92)
To me it feels like every thought we have is blocking out our true nature. It’s also blocking out what would be a true life experience: both because the inner self can’t get out, and the outer life is blocked from showing forth its true nature and transcendence. “The Kingdom of God is spread upon the earth, yet men do not see it.” Thus every thought we have is distracting us from the ‘real show’ or ‘real adventure’ of our lives, which is our destiny. It’s like the Polynesian saying, “We spend our time fishing for minnows, all the while standing on a whale.” The “minnows” are thoughts, distractions, making us ignorant of the “whale” of our true nature, our true destiny, which is something much bigger than we ever imagined, and much more interesting than the sideshow of the mind trying to catch “little minnows.”
The sublimity of our essence is trying to make itself known both from within and from without. Thoughts are blocking that “knowingness.” This is the reason for the practice of yoga, or what we call meditation. To re “yoke” this awareness which would initiate a marriage of the eternal with the imminent.
“There’s something that wants to make itself known, a presence.”
My own insight happened while I was meditating last week: It was the insight that you’re not trying to get rid of your thoughts, or stop thinking, but rather stop the attachment to the thought. Don’t let it move you emotionally. That way the thought can come and go without you emotionally reacting to it. Think of the mythology of the Buddha: His victory came not from directly getting rid of thoughts, but by not being moved by them. Remember the story? First he was tempted by desire in the form of Lord Kama’s (a metaphor for Ego, Super-Ego, or even thought itself) beautiful, naked daughters (I believe there were three, which is an important mythological number) and he didn’t allow himself to be moved. So then, Lord Kama tried to use fear: He sent armies and weapons hurling at him. Again, the Buddha wasn’t moved, so the arrows dissolved into flowers.
Ah, but I almost forgot, there were three temptations, right? What was the third? It was the temptation of “Dharma” or in our lingo, what you should be doing out in the world. You might call it a “Political” temptation or a “Career” temptation. In the Buddha’s case, he was a King’s son. So, the temptation was political. The Lord Kama said, in effect, “What are you doing just sitting here? Can’t you see the world’s going to hell in a hand basket? You’re a prince. You should be leading your people!”
And still the Buddha did not allow himself to be moved. And that’s the moment he attained complete victory.
I just bought a book on Kindle called “Why Meditate?” and while I’ve just read the first 10 or so pages, he already confirmed my first insight: That you’re not trying to stop or get rid of your thoughts. At least not directly. Anymore than the Buddha tried to directly get rid of The Lord Kama. Instead, he wasn’t moved emotionally by the temptations of desire, fear, or duty. And that’s a good metaphor for what you’re trying to do in meditation: as the thoughts arise, you don’t try to fight them, but instead, lose your emotional attachment to them. Practice not letting them emotionally move you. So in that sense you really need thoughts during meditation, just like a marksman needs a target. You need them, so that you can practice not letting them control you psychologically or emotionally.
Here’s another good example. If you go to the 2:48 mark of this video, you’ll hear Deepak address this very issue:
“See, trying to silence a thought, is a thought. Ok? So, don’t try to silence the thought. But, you see, if you leave them alone, they start to say to themselves, ‘Nobody’s noticing me.’ Ok, so you don’t try to get out of the thought, because that is a thought by itself…The awareness of a thought is not a thought. It cannot be, right? So, just be aware of it. That’s all. Don’t try to [silence it].” – Deepak Chopra
I might rephrase it like this: “Trying to silence a thought, is an emotion. If you leave them alone, emotionally, they’ll leave the ‘party’ on their own volition. So, don’t try to get out of the thought, because, that, in itself, is an emotion. Instead, try to lose your emotional attachment to the thought.”
Play and practice with this idea. As the thoughts arise, practice not being emotionally moved by them.