Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dharma Series - Thoughts

Thoughts are funny things. They seem so incredibly solid and yet, most of the things we think have absolutely no ground when we actually try to pin them down.

This idea of the fluidity of our thoughts comes up in many schools of thought. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is all about changing the way we think on the basis that unhelpful thoughts can cause us a lot of mental anguish where there is no justification for it. Neuro-Linguistic Programming challenges us to use language to shift the way we think. Meditation teaches us to see our thoughts as 'clouds in the sky' - shifting, changing, impermanent.

Our way of thinking is habitual and just like any habit, changing the way we think and learning to let go of our thoughts is no easy task.

As a regular meditator I have spent six years working with this practice. The key instruction I have followed is to 'drop the story-line'. Reading 'My Stroke of Insight' really opened my eyes to how our left brain naturally generates a storyline that's often not true. The storyline is very powerful though because it provide structure and often gives 'reason' for our experience. I've found dropping the storyline extremely challenging because so much of 'me' is wrapped up in it.

In November, however, I had a profound experience whereby I was finally able to let thoughts go for an extended period of time. It was profound in that I was able to keep from getting hooked by the thoughts and as a result I could experience an emotion without all the drama. So instead of 'I'm sad because that person did that thing' or 'I'm angry and hurt because they were so cruel' it was just 'This is what sad feels like' and 'this is what anger feels like'.

Without the thoughts to fuel them, the emotions ran their course quickly and I would soon return to a state of calm and contentment. No extreme feelings one way or another.

For five days this was my experience and in those five days I had a heightened awareness of just how incredible the world is. I've always appreciated nature and the minute there's sun you'll find me outside - but this was different.

I felt like there was no hurry to be anywhere. Just being was enough. And in being I could be absorbed in the way the sun lit the clouds from behind or how the rain sounded as it fell into the tree tops. I found myself noticing more - robins (the English sort) flickering in and out of a holly bush, a parakeet watching cautiously from a hole in a nearby tree, the smell of a fire burning somewhere and how crisp the air felt on my skin contrasting against the warmth of the sun when it broke through the grey mass above.

My wakeful experience ended but I don't feel any loss because I gained something very valuable from it. I know that it's possible to drop thoughts and I understand the descriptions these teachers I listen to are getting at. I have direct experience of the benefit of being able to do this and that in itself has shifted my meditation practice from feeling like I should be doing it to wanting to do it.

In creating this piece of art I wanted to capture the enigmatic smile of the Buddha - a smile that conveys the sense of ease that comes from letting go of the storyline and letting life genuinely touch you.

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