Basics of Meditation
Part 2: The mind and meditation
Our meditation practice is affect just as much by what we think as by what we do and who we do it with. The Indian philosophy says that the mind can be our greatest friend, or our worst enemy. The Maitri Upanishad says, "One's own thought is one's world. What a person thinks is what he becomes-- That is the eternal mystery."
If we get stuck in a pattern of negative thinking, it can be hard to remember the high and lofty goals that led us to the spiritual path. In fact, at these times, we may get discouraged and give up on meditation altogether. However, this is the very time that meditation and the other spiritual practices can be of most help. Through the practice of meditation, we begin to separate from our thoughts, and recognize that we are not our mind nor are we controlled by it. We connect with the power that makes the mind think. We gain choice over the fluctuations of the mind. Gurumayi Childvilasananda writes,
"Your own positive thoughts are your good company. Your own negative thoughts are your bad company. Since you spend more time with yourself than with anyone else, you have really got to look at what kind of company you are…
Working with the Mind in Meditation
The great sage of Tibet, Milarepa, said, “Meditation is not meditating on something, rather it is familiarizing ourselves with the nature of mind.”
The most important thing we can learn from meditation is this: You are not your Mind, You are not your thoughts. You are the one who has a mind, has thoughts but you are not them.
You say, “My shirt, My hat, My car..” but you never think that you and your shirt are the same. If your shirt is dirty, you don’t think you are dirty, if your car is bashed, you don’t think you are bashed.
Who are you then? You are the Self.. the Self is Free,
In meditation, we learn to break the identification with the mind and thoughts; then no matter if the mind is happy or sad, bored or not bored, quiet or restless, we are always the same.
Pema Chodron tells a great story in one of her books about Milarepa and the Demons. They kept appearing to him during meditation. He tried to reason, tried to teach them the dharma, got angry, but they just laughed. Finally, he said, “I’m not going away, and you are not either, so lets just live here together.” All the demons left, except one, a particularly vicious one. So he walked over, put his head in its mouth and said, “Go ahead, eat me.” And it disappeared.
Pema’s point: When resistance is gone, so are the demons. With our worst thoughts, we need to just name them, just let them be, and they will disappear. In meditation, we don't battle with our thoughts, we just name them, see them clearly, and let them go on their own.
Meditation Practices for the Mind
1. Mindfulness of thoughts
• Sit quietly, close your eyes, and notice your thoughts
• Categorize each one (fact, memory, daydreaming)
• Or label the thought by saying: thinking
• No judging it or getting involved in it; just noticing.
2. Space between Thoughts (Dzogchen)
• “Do not prolong previous thought. Do not beckon the next or future thought. Rest nakedly in the nature of fresh awareness of the present moment.”
• Sit quietly, and watch your thoughts.
• See if you can find the space between two thoughts.
• Watch where one begins and one ends. What is in that space?
3. Source of thoughts
• Imagine a fountain that sprays water, and there are colored lights that illuminate the spray. In the same way, we generate a fountain of thoughts, and our emotions color the thoughts with “good” or “Bad” or any other label. Meditation is like finding the source of the pure water of the fountain, without the colored lights.
• Sit quietly and try and trace where a thought comes from.
• When a thought begins, see if you can catch it beginning before it is a fully formed thought.
Back to the top