Friday, February 01, 2008

thinking about Buddhism- meditation

When I first came in contact with Buddhism, more than ten years ago, it wasn't very appealing to me. The couple of books I had read and the Buddhists I was acquainted with at that time made it sound like it was all about discipline-- being cool and detached, unemotional, your thoughts under perfect control. I was curious about it, so I tried meditation a bit and read a bit more, but it went nowhere. But about four or five years ago, I ran across the writings of Pema Chodron and met some different Buddhists, and my impression began to change.

The heart of Buddhist practice is meditation. But my early understanding of what that meant was looking at it slantwise. I thought the idea was to completely shut down all thought in your brain and try to merge with the Great Nothing. I don't think I had any idea exactly what that meant, it was just my impression of Buddhist meditation. When I sit down to meditate now, my goal isn't to stop thinking, what I want is to create a little space between me and my thoughts, to watch them, see them go by-- the classic example is like watching clouds float across the sky. (I especially like that example when it is the night sky, with clouds floating by in front of the vast starry expanse.) The idea is to not attach any significance to them, to realize that they're just thoughts, electrical impulses that have no meaning outside what I give them.

I should confess here that I am terrible at this. I have what I think of as Busy Brain Syndrome. Not that meditation is easy for anyone, but I think a lot. In the space of a minute, I might think about what we're having for dinner, who's picking up my son from school, what responsibilities are "real" vs. ones that I've just picked up out of guilt, where my daughter is going to college next year, whether or not I'm over-involved in her decision, is that load of laundry done, and if evil starts small, how am I participating? And honestly, I have rarely managed to stop this flow of constant mental chatter for more than a minute or two, although I've spent far longer than that sitting and working on it.

but what I'm learning to do is to just observe all that constant stream of thought. Just sit and watch it. When I first started, I would imagine that I had some sort of helmet that completely covered my head and it was all covered with lights and dials and wires that were constantly blinking and humming and clicking, representing all my mental activity. And then I would just slip out of the helmet and leave it sitting there, flashing and humming and clicking away, all by itself. It is such an enormous relief sometimes to leave it aside. According to the Buddhist teachers I've read in the last few years, the mind is innately spacious. We just have to step away from the claustrophobic stream of thoughts that makes us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious to experience that spacious, open feeling. I've only rarely experienced this; I'm not the most disciplined of practitioners. but I've experienced it enough to continue to work at it.

Should I put my disclaimer in every day? I'm a beginning student of Buddhism. Take all of this with a grain of salt.


1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a PERFECT description of the kind of meditation the Mindsight guy has his patients learn, and that I'd like to learn. I can imagine how the ability to do this would indeed be the first necessary step to learning how to change your brain. :-) Will look up the Pema! Thanks!