In the last blog I tried to give an answer to what meditation is. In this blog I want to try to give a glimpse of the things that happen when one tries to meditate using an example of what happened during one of my meditation sessions.
While I meditated, thoughts from past kept intruding. I was trying to remember the name of a person who worked in my team 20 years back. His brother was also a member of my team. I kept trying to remember their names. On one hand, I was telling myself to ‘let go’ and not bother about remembering their names. On the other hand, my thoughts were going round and round, trying to latch-on to those two elusive names. I would momentarily snap out the vicious spiral of my thoughts taking me round and round the elusive name/s and start relaxing, only to be pulled back into another vortex of thoughts swirling around the slippery names. These are the kind of tricks that our mind employs. All the time we are meditating, our mind is trying to sneak into the session. The whole purpose of meditation is to free our ‘self’ from the ever present and mostly repetitive thoughts. Mind however does not want to let go of you. It fights you tooth and claw. The best way to ‘win’ the fight is to ignore it and gently push the mind and its repetitive thoughts aside. This is called mindfulness. After practicing for a while one starts succeeding. Then the mind comes up with new tricks. It gives up overt fighting and sneaks in through the back door. It complements you for succeeding in your meditation practice and comes and sits by your side. It appears that your mind is helping you. However, the moment it has sneaked in the back door you are back to square one because it takes up its incessant commentary again. Your mind is cunning. The best way to gain control over your mind and its never ending chain of thoughts is, as I mentioned earlier in the piece, not to fight it. If it comes in through the back door let it out of the front door. You complement it for trying but ask it to go and play its tricks somewhere else. The moment you are able to do this and continue doing it ‘you’ have disengaged from your thoughts. You have separated yourself from your mind. You are able to watch it. You start getting control over your thoughts by finding gaps between them. You can use it as a tool and not be used. As Eckhart Tolle says in many of his books and speeches you become the ‘silent watcher’. A time would come when you can just laugh at your mind and its poisonous product— repetitive thoughts. If this is what happens in a session of meditation what about our normal day to day living? Let us look at it.
Our brain has evolved over millions of years from virtual non-existence to the current state. The first organisms did not have any brain as such although they did possess reflexes that helped them to survive and procreate. Our brain contains 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) interconnected in billions of different ways. Our thoughts zip though this complex maze of connections. They are inextricably linked to and lead from one to the other. How many times have most of us not experienced a smell, a sight, a touch or a wisp of thought trigger off a long chain ending at a point that has no connection with the impulse that triggered the chain of thoughts in the first place? It is like smoke rising up from a fire. While drifting away from the fire, smoke splits into different shapes with tendrils of it floating away in various directions. Thoughts are like that. A strong impulse could give rise to ‘tendrils’ of thought taking you away in different directions. After a while what you are thinking may not have any connection to the impulse that started off the thought process. I am sure everybody has such experiences, in fact almost every day. It is very difficult to not be carried away by our thoughts and remain in a still space. Just imagine you are taking your morning walk. The first few minutes you might enjoy the scenery, take deep breaths and look around. Slowly the thoughts start creeping in. They could be thoughts about what time you would finish your walk, what you have to do then, when you should reach your office, who you have to meet there, how many meetings you have to attend, what you have to do in them, the problems that you might have to face at work, or the attractive girl or the man you might have coffee with, what your spouse might think if he/she knew about your coffee and so on and so forth. Mostly the thoughts are a bit negative because of the negativity bias of our mind. More about the negativity bias in another blog. By the time you snap out of your chain of thoughts, you could have finished your walk. You would have probably missed all the beautiful flowers, the green leaves gently swaying in the breeze, dew drops clinging to them and shining like glass beads in the morning sunlight, a fantastic variety of bird calls, the fresh cool morning breeze caressing your cheeks, the cheerful elderly couple who you normally wave to, and many other things. Your thoughts stole your precious morning. Our thoughts about the future and the past don’t just rob us of our mornings but entire days, months and years. How sad!
Let us progress a little further. What about your morning shower? Was it refreshing? Did you actually enjoy it or were you thinking of the very same work day ahead of you? Did you feel the soft soapy froth on your palms, the warm water sliding down the nape of your neck? What did you have for breakfast? Did you feel the crunch of toast between your teeth? Most of the time we notice none of this. We hurry through our normal routine not paying attention to what we are doing. Our thoughts take us away from the present and dwell in the future or in the past. The joy of living in the present is decimated. Of course there are brief moments when we snap out our compulsive thinking. Generally this is when we are engrossed in a task that we enjoy immensely. For me, a game of badminton or keeping the wickets in cricket match does it. Such instances are few and far between and are sadly very brief interludes in a thought driven existence. So what can we do about it? How can we expand these all too brief interludes to fill our lives? How can we fill our lives with joy?
The good news is that you can train your mind to be still and be your friend and not a foe. I have found that practicing mindfulness meditation helps slowly get out of the thought driven life and establish stillness in myself. And I have been finding that you can carry the stillness from the meditation sessions into the day to day life. More in other blogs.