As I try to meditate this morning, thoughts are on the rampage, thrusting and exploding everywhere in my mind; they repeatedly capture my attention. I’m swallowed up for a time. Finally, I decide to just let them be. Don’t try to stop the thoughts. Awareness falls back into sporadic observation. I’m alert enough at least to be curious about what is capturing me. In that modicum of alertness, a subtle shift happens in what I’m able to register. Ah. This is food for a question to V.
“V,” I abruptly inquire. “Please tell me about how thoughts capture my mind and attention so quickly and thoroughly. I’ve just been ravaged by them, trying to sit quietly and meditate.”
“This is a natural human condition,” she answers just as promptly as I have asked.
“Sorry for this sudden inquiry. Good morning, V, dear friend and mentor,” I apologize.
“No apology necessary. It must be vexing to feel like a victim to mental processes. Tell me what you have observed.”
“Well, I’m glad you asked. But I haven’t actually thought about it yet.”
“Go ahead then, now. Think about thinking. Observe your observation. Be clear.”
I ponder. “I guess I’m trusting that, as I describe this to you, it will become clearer. The act of focusing awareness makes it clearer.”
“No doubt it does, as you stay present.”
“When I was watching the thoughts wrangle around across the screen of my mental ‘theater’, I began to realize they weren’t outside or above me; they were right inside me—up close and very personal. I’ve heard numerous meditation teachers say, ‘look at thoughts as clouds floating across the sky.’ Well, that’s a nice maxim, but it doesn’t describe what I was experiencing. Those thoughts were right inside my head, beating on my attention—from the inside. They did an excellent job of masquerading as me. It felt like they had taken over my whole awareness.”
“Still, you were able to detach somewhat and observe them. Correct?”
“Yes. Well, I could observe them, but I wouldn’t say I could ‘detach’ from them. As soon as I relaxed, the thoughts came streaming back and submerged me. I was them again at that point. It wasn’t like I could even catch them sneaking back. They would just suddenly be there, in me and around me, using me—and I was unaware of anything else. This is not like little puffy, white clouds drifting in the blue sky. They were more like tornadoes churning between my ears.”
“That’s a good analogy. I understand. There are indeed thoughts that are like puffy little clouds, but there are also many of the like you describe. Even if they are ‘constructive’ thoughts—helping you plan events or solve problems—your mental apparatus works to impress them upon your awareness strenuously and completely; it wants your full attention. Your sentience is picked up like bits of straw in a storm. Am I right? You feel as though you are inside your thoughts more than they are inside you.”
“Exactly. You must have been human once!”
V smiles. “Yes, more than once. I can remember thoughts behaving this way. Let me help you out a little.”
“Please do.” (more…)