The Art of Working with the Mind
It is not easy to navigate the internal terrain of how our mind thinks. Our mind and emotions are highly developed like a magician in the art of illusion and the intensity resembles that of an Imax theatre. Inside our head we have a big screen, a big sound system and a variety of dramas designed to stimulate emotions ranging from terror to desire that can accelerate to maximum intensity in under six seconds.
Mindfulness is a way we can begin to sort out some of ‘what is’ from the illusion. We can begin to observe how our need to create security at any cost reinforces the belief that we need more… more money, approval and control so we can have happiness and security.
Sitting down in a posture that is strong and gentle we can begin to make friends with our mind by observing the habits of our thinking. In this view instead of attempting to minimize the thoughts, we are interested in them. There is a sense of curiosity as to what thought will arise next. Will it be a judgment, a desire, a fear or a plan? The idea is to greet each thought kindly and then after acknowledging the validity of it, we offer it out to the space. Then there is a gap, a moment when we are not engaged in the thought and nothing has rushed in yet. This is a moment of choice, we can look for the next thought or we can return to our posture, the space around us and our breath.
In this type of practice we work with two basic elements of self-development – awareness and concentration. Awareness is the practice of seeing and being with what is arising in the moment. Concentration is the practice of focusing one’s attention in a particular way so that our experience stabilizes in a contained process of attention. Concentration is sometimes referred to as Shamatha – a single pointed meditation. Awareness is sometimes referred to as Vipassana – an analytic form of meditation. Working with the balance and timing of the movement between awareness and concentration is an art form. How long do we spend in acknowledging the thought? When are we indulging and when are we rejecting? As we deepen in to our practice sensitivity begins to develop, we can recognize when indulging is taking place and when rejection is happening.
Little by little a sense of friendliness toward our mind develops and we can see through the magicians game – that of trying to convince ourselves that if things were different then we would be secure and happy. We see there is richness in our drama –it is our humanity and it is not the whole picture.
The reason it is so important to get to know the habits of the mind is that when they show up in the world of daily encounters we can recognize the habit instead of believing the illusion. Before I began to practice meditation I didn’t think I was judgmental – I just thought that I was right. As I began to examine my habits of thinking I realized that I am judging much of the time. Now when I am out in the world I can recognize my tendency to be judgmental and choose to respond differently. Having that choice opened up my relationship with people and things. I became more curious and confident and everyday encounters are often interesting instead of annoying.
Getting to know our body patterns and our mind patterns gives us a choice. It is easier to spot a tendency of constriction when I have seen it in action as a generic response to intensity. It is easier to spot a judgment or frivolous planning when I have observed my mind judge and plan when I am sitting on my cushion with no external stimulus around. I can make a choice to shift to center, to an experience of expansiveness. I won’t attempt to stay in center – personality will kick in and it is a rich part my human experience. We are both personality and center. Our center is noble and awesome, pulsing with life and the wisdom of heaven and earth. Why not cultivate center and become bright and shiny?
by Wendy Palmer