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  • Andrew Lewis


Updated: Dec 6, 2021

It is often asked, 'What do we do in meditation?' Do we work with the mind? Is it some sort of thinking about thinking? If so, is that not self-indulgent navel-gazing that will change nothing? Might it even be counterproductive? If my thoughts are anxious and unhappy, how is thinking even more going to reduce my levels of anxiety, make me feel better, and/or change my circumstances? Thinking, and thinking too much often seems to be the problem, not the solution!

Such questions are commonly asked by dubious beginners and even some who have tried different kinds of meditation without feeling any benefit from the practice. Notice how these questions are indicative of an 'approach' to meditation. We arrive with expectations, an agenda, an idea of what we desire from the practice. We are in judging mode right at the outset. We are fixing a picture of how things should be in order to satisfy our requirements. This is quite natural, a common habit of our thinking but it is trying too hard. It is what our meditation practice will begin to change as insight and awareness unfolds.

How does this happen? It happens when we bring absolutely nothing to our meditation! No aims, no desires, no expectations, no work to do, no trying, no struggle to stop things being just the way they are!

WE WATCH. The more we watch our thoughts in meditation, the more we cultivate awareness and insight. Doing or thinking we must be doing is the distraction, the temptation. We just watch, paying attention to present moment experience without conceptual elaboration or emotional reactivity. We watch the busy, restless chatter of the mind, scurrying here, there and everywhere. Thoughts come and go in a constant stream. We watch them, we watch the temptation to hang on to them and to believe them, particularly the thorny, negative ones.

This practice of pure watching requires patience, focus and balance, like carrying a tray of drinks through a crowded room. Don't take your eye off the task! Watching well often saves us from doing badly!

Soon our instinctive, reactive relationship with our thinking begins to undergo a subtle change. There emerges a space between the thinker and the thought. We see clearly that we are not our thoughts. We see that our thoughts have no energy, no power of attachment unless we take ownership of them and engage with them in unskilful ways. Without this intervention, there is nothing to own and no harm that any thought can do.

Just by watching our thoughts we cultivate and strengthen a dispassion that liberates us from the tyranny within.

'Only when you stop liking and disliking, will all things become clear'.

This, like all such aphorisms is problematic but it gives useful insight into meditation practice. It's not about what we take to the meditation but more about what we leave to one side. No agenda, no judgments, no predilection. Simply being where we are with things as they are.

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