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  • Andrew Lewis


Updated: Jan 1, 2023

We are sometimes told that meditation is about staying with the breath and 'emptying the mind of thoughts'. Staying with the breath and thereby with the body is a particular feature of many kinds of meditation. What about emptying the mind of thoughts? If this is a desirable goal and a sine qua non of meditation, how is it to be achieved? And far from desirable per se, might it be no more than an ineffective avoidance strategy for coping with the kind of thoughts that are least likely to be breathed away!

Meditation is about awareness. Meditation is observing what is present and what is arising. Meditation is about following the breath and it can also be about following (or staying with) the thought. Meditation can be deeply analytic.

It works like this: 'Here is a thought that is demanding my attention! It is not going to drift away anytime soon. That's okay. Let me settle my body and my breath, so that I can explore this thought, get to understand it, get to see how I can work with this thought in the best way to take care of myself, creating the climate in which a solution, resolution or acceptance can emerge.'

Analytic meditation is about putting the thought in a witness box, or testing it in a science lab. We question it and test it. Why have you arrived? What are you prompting me to believe? How do I know that what you are prompting me to believe is true, useful or in any way beneficial? How would I feel if I didn't allow you to pull me along in some dark narrative flow?

Already something begins to change. The thought is no longer in charge. What is done with it, or about it, is our choice. It cannot bully us unless we relinquish control. As we stay with it, get to understand its nature, and maintain physical peace and balance in body and breath, we nurture those seeds of clarity, wisdom, kindness and joy that will germinate and blossom through our practice. This doesn't come through esoteric mumbo jumbo, or the latest trends of psychobabble. It comes through clear and calm observation and analysis.

Hence the picture of Einstein above. He was pretty good at observation and analysis! Did he practice any kind of 'formal' meditation? Who cares? He certainly practiced working with his thoughts and we know he relaxed his body with a hobby of playing the violin.

Einstein said this: 'If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended upon the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.'

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