Meditation 101.1

Developing a habit of meditation is called a practice, even when you have been doing it a long time and have reached states of mind previously unknown. I like that. I have a practice. One of the most important points I’ve learned is that I don’t need to apologize for being a rotten meditator–saying, “I’m no good at it but I like trying,” for instance–in fact, what I thought was “bad me” is really much more the way of the universal human mind. Its nature is to wander. The beauty of meditation is not that you lock on to a particular state, but rather that you return to this moment, this body, this place, from whatever fantasies, plans, rehearsals, recriminations, and feelings the mind has been jutting off to.

As our meditation leader on Wednesday nights says, “Your mind is well trained but undisciplined.”

Because I’m a neophyte, I like guided meditations and have been experimenting with various youtube meditations. Sharon Salzberg is tops, both her books and guided meditations. My favorite is Lovingkindness. I like her voice, which is matter of fact, smart, and calming. In a recent session on mindfulness, she spoke of those flitting thoughts, saying (paraphrasing) that when that happens, notice the thought, and instead of focusing on the object or content of the fantasy or image, consider whether it is positive, negative, or neutral. Doing this allows you to shift from obsessive content to the feeling the image carries.

Our tendency with the positive object is to cling to it. With the negative, to feel aversion and to turn away, label it as bad, resent it. Neutral feelings lead to boredom and thence to fantasy. I must have a lot of neutral images, because my flitting is from this fantasy or story or rehearsal to the next.

Recently I have been feeling bad about a thoughtless act–well not thoughtless, but lacking good judgment–and during meditation have found myself rehearsing mini-speeches that I would offer should this or that event transpire. If I got called into the principal’s office, for instance (so to speak). Since this is not what I’d call a pleasant feeling, I’m not sure why I’m “clinging” to it. I should feel aversion to it. But perhaps, my fantasy speeches are agreeable because I come away looking good in them, thus relieving myself of the memory/feeling I don’t like.

We’ve all been there, done that. A friend says, “I only know how to respond to shame and humiliation,” jokingly, but there’s an element of truth there, right? Why do we cling like slugs to our mistakes, rehearsing what went down, trying out for roles that fix it, speaking in the tongues of oppressors, scolding parents, overseers.

When we spend our internal life elsewhere–practicing, rehearsing, rebutting, planning–we are dead to the moment at hand. The only freedom is in being fully present, noticing the feelings of the body, the sounds around us, the breath. All else slips away, the good feelings of pride and success, the negative ones of failure and arrogance. They are like waves. What is stable is awareness.

That’s part of the point–but mindfulness is the training of a more disciplined mind. That makes sense to me. Rather than reacting to every good and bad thing that hits us, we can recognize it as negative (aversion), positive (clinging), or neutral. Point to it, name it, and let it go. Like a song that gets stuck in our heads, same refrain over and over beyond endurance, the repeated scenarios infiltrate our consciousness and leave us very little space of our own, from which we might practice lovingkindness or simply recognize the beauty of the breath, our presence in life.

Another technique was in a youtube by Lori Granger. You are to imagine the fantasy or thought as a balloon that enters your mind. You see it rise, you let it float away, as you return to the field of now. I’m not sure how well this worked for me, because I enjoyed (a little too much, methinks) the image of this individual or that in a balloon. If I blow gently, that person, hands pressed against the convex surface of the inside of the balloon, watches me, “Nooooo, noooo, don’t send me away.” Another sits in the bottom of the balloon hands crossed over his chest. He doesn’t see the pin that suddenly appears in my hand.

My mind has cleverly appropriated the exercise to exact revenge. I turn off the balloon machine and return to the breath.

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