Janet Taylor is Chief Operating Officer at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City and Director of Temple Buddhist Center. It’s a pleasure to welcome her first post here. She writes a blog at http://www.templebuddhistcenter.blogspot.com/. The Temple Buddhist Center web site can be found at http://www.templebuddhistcenter.org/.
I’ve been reading Joyful Wisdom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who is the son of the great Tibetan teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Mingyur writes very clearly that meditation is aboutusing our minds to end the suffering that our minds are causing us. Within in the problem is the antidote. When people become interested in meditation, they are often motivated by getting rid of stress, learning to relax, or even making a deeper spiritual connection. Yet, when we start to actually practice meditating, it can be a very challenging experience. We are encouraged to be aware of our thoughts, but then it may seem that the thoughts multiply and even speed up, sometimes they seem to build in their tenacity to smother us. We’ve been thinking all this crazy stuff all along, and now it’s worse because we’re so painfully aware of this crazy stuff. So, a critical element of learning to meditate is recognizing that within the very problem, this runaway mind of ours, is the antidote to the suffering caused by the mind. It is about learning to rest with, make friends with our thoughts. In meditation, we are neither trying to run away from, nor are we trying to run towards our thoughts and emotions. In meditation we are practicing not running anywhere. Just sitting, just making friends with whatever irritating thought we might be having at any moment. And not getting too attached to any thought we deem pleasant either. Just being with all our thoughts in a non-judgmental way.
This awareness with non-judgment is the antidote to our suffering, but I appreciate that is a very challenging task. The Buddhist story that goes along with this teaching is the monk who goes into the cave to meditate and is visited by hungry ghosts, which represent his crazy thoughts. First, he tries to run away from them, but they follow him unceasingly. Then, he become obsessed with them, and the fear inside him grows, which causes the hungry ghosts to grow as well. Finally, he decides to sit down and serve them tea and make friends with them, and then they go away. Such is the practice with our own thoughts.
We can just keep sitting with our thoughts, trying our best not to be afraid of them AND trying not to latch onto to any passing happiness that does arise. Isn’t it true? Feelings of happiness can be very seductive. Yes, we are learning to meditate to end our suffering and have lasting happiness, but when happiness spontaneously arises, we are instructed to just sit with that as well. Ever been having a really great time and started wishing that it would never end, that it would just go on and on forever. Then, when the “great time” is over, the holding on to it diminishes the experience of it.
Or when we feel depressed, and recognizing that feeling causes our thoughts to go into overdrive of fear that this bad feeling will last forever. As long as random thoughts are driving our happiness, we will never be happy, at least not for very long.
So, with meditation, we recognize the power of our minds to directly impact our experience of life. Through meditation, we are training that power for good, for a sense of deep happiness and deep peace, unentangled from whatever is happening externally.
Think for a moment—what was it that got you interested in meditation? Was it running from something or running towards something? Right now, get that sense of what your initial motivation might have been. Now imagine that you stop running, you stand still, your thoughts still might be racing ahead or behind you or all around, but you just stop chasing them and stop being chased. Imagine sitting down in the middle of all the thoughts you have and making friends.
Our thoughts are not the enemy; our thoughts are just thoughts–fleeting, ephemeral, electrical impulses. If you were to look into your brain, you could see the energy created by thoughts but not the thoughts themselves. These ideas that we can get so hung up on, are only as real as we decide them to be.
Mingyur Rinpoche had terrible anxiety attacks as young monk, and used the power of meditation to just sit with these wild thoughts that he would have. Just sitting, not making up a story, not jumping ahead to the future or wallowing in the past, just being with our thoughts can have a deeply transformative impact on how we experience life.
There’s a wonderful book that’s available for free on the Internet by Lama Yeshe entitled, Make Your Mind an Ocean. In it, Lama Yeshe describes this incredible happiness that comes from a mind not tied down to its random thoughts. The Mind as an Ocean ebbs and flows with each moment. Imagine your own thoughts rising and falling away without getting stuck in any way. How peaceful that would be…
“Since everything is like an ‘apparition,’
Perfect in just being ‘What It Is’ — as it is.
Having nothing to do with ‘good’ or ‘bad,’
‘acceptance’ or ‘rejection’ —
You might as well just burst out laughing!”
— Tibetan master Longchenpa, fourteenth century Tibet