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Thinking, thinking, thinking

echidna in Berry
People often have the idea that meditation is about stopping your thoughts. So you would be able to sit down and stop thinking... Does this sound likely? That's not to say that such a thing will never happen, and if it does, be sure to enjoy it. But thinking is something your mind just does, like beating is something that your heart just does. It's not a bug, it's a feature. So when you sit down you will probably continue to have thoughts. And you don't really have to do anything about them, there's nothing to stop you from just thinking about things the whole time. In meditation, though, you can do something else, too; you can notice your thinking. And this is where the magic begins: there starts to be a relationship with the part of you that notices things and the rest of your mind. This relationship opens up a whole new territory.

It goes a little like this: I sit down and I start thinking about what I have to do when I finish meditating. That thought engenders new thoughts about someone I'm in an argument with, and then I start to explain to myself why she is wrong and I am right, and I'm far down this road when I remember I'm meditating and I notice that I'm breathing. And I think, I'm spending an awful lot of time thinking about this, which thought might send me off thinking about how hopeless I am at meditation and what time is it anyway? And then I notice I'm still there, still breathing. Meditation has a lot of this returning. And each time I return, my thoughts get a little softer, my beliefs about the world a little less real or at least less urgent.

When I meditate and I notice I've gone somewhere, and it's not somewhere I want to be (these clouds of thinking start to be painful after awhile) I come back to my body, to a sensation. I notice I'm breathing, I'm heavy into the chair, I can feel my hands. My mind softens. Then I remember my koan, which is a piece of text like a line from a poem. "The coin that's lost in the river is found in the river." That's all. Repeat as necessary.

Rachel Boughton


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