Zen Meditation Course 3 – Thinking About Thoughts
Welcome to session 3.
As before, let’s take a moment to find our sitting posture. If you’re on a chair, sit with your hips raised above your knees. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If you’re sitting on the floor, your knees may be resting on the floor, or close to it. You can actually use some form of padding under your knees, if it makes you more comfortable.
Place your hands in the cosmic mudra, keep your thumbs just lightly touching. Check that your back is straight but not tense. Tuck in your chin slightly. Think about your nose being in line with your navel, that may help you to find the best head position. Or that your ears are in line with your shoulders. Find the place where you feel that your head is aligned with your spine, and that you aren’t sitting with your head tilted forward, or backward.
You can move around a bit if you like, from side to side or back to front, until you feel you’ve got a stable and comfortable sitting position.
Take a couple of long breaths now. In through the nose, and out through the mouth. Let go of all your tension, feel your energy moving downwards as the chest and shoulders relax on the exhale.
Now begin breathing through the nose. Just be aware of the breath coming into the body, and now leaving the body. Notice that pause between the inhale and the exhale, then again between the exhale and the next inhale.
If you want to count the breath on each exhale, go ahead. Or you can simply watch the breath. Let’s do this for ten breaths or so.
(Ten breaths later)
We use the breath as a focus for the mind. In fact, this kind of ‘just sitting’ meditation doesn’t have any particular focus. There’s no object of meditation, as such. There’s no objective at all. The breath, though, is a convenient starting point if you haven’t done much of this type of meditation before.
So, we’ll keep breathing now. But if you like, you can drop that focus on the breath. Just sit and be for a while.
(Five breaths later)
You may have wandered off into a bit of a daydream. When and if that happens, and you realise it’s happened, just bring your mind back to the breathing again.
So, what do you do about all these thoughts that keep appearing and distracting you? You may be wondering how on earth it’s possible to just sit without any objective, anyway. If there is any objective, it’s just to sit and stay present in the moment, but this doesn’t mean you stop thinking.
The classic Zen texts advise you to think about not thinking, but that’s a pretty mysterious and seemingly contradictory piece of advice. How do you think about not thinking?
Here’s one way of approaching it. Don’t try and stop your thoughts. Instead, think of yourself as the host at a party. When a thought comes along, acknowledge it as a guest and let it move on inside, to the party. Don’t engage with it, just let it drift on through. Then, you might find there’s an interval, before the next guest arrives. You’re in a space ‘before thinking’. When the next thought arrives, treat it the same way. If you do find yourself engaging with it, that’s not a problem. When you realise that’s what you’re doing, you can drop the engagement and come back to the breath, or just being in the present.
Let’s breathe for a little longer, now.
(Another ten breaths)
Just going back to that interval between thoughts: – you may experience these as moments of clarity and stillness. You have these moments of clarity interspersed with moments of distraction. This is the natural rhythm of the mind, and now you’re noticing it. And as you notice it, your mind begins to settle and calm itself a little more.
You don’t have to drop your focus on the breath if you don’t want to. Even using the breath as a kind of anchor, you can still find yourself being distracted by something. The most important thing to do is just acknowledge it when it happens, and bring your mind back to the present moment.
Let’s do another few breaths, before we finish.
(Ten breaths later)
Ok, just let your focus go, now. Let the mind do whatever it wants.
Thoughts and distractions are always present. Just see them and don’t become attached to them. Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it’s not. The mind can be unpredictable from day to day. Don’t judge yourself on your so called ‘performance’ from one day to the next. And don’t feel that you must set goals for your meditation practice. When you sit down to meditate, simply notice what comes up and let it go. If you can’t let it go, notice that, too. OK, see you soon, in the next session.
”Thoughts and distractions are always present. Just see them and don’t become attached to them.