Autopilot

I’ve been milling this one over for some time. It’s kind of hard to nail down.

Mindfulness practice reveals an odd, even potentially unsettling truth about our lives. We don’t live much of it. What do I mean by that? We’re checked out, running on autopilot – far away from many things that we live through every day. Driving to work, all of a sudden we’re there – not remembering sections of the drive. Having conversations, we’re elsewhere, distracted from time to time.

Don’t take this as chiding, however. Mindfulness practice also reveals how difficult it is to attend to the moment. The mind flits about from one thing to the next. Monkey mind jumps from one thought and experience to the next, chittering away. We’re so used to it, that we don’t even notice it — not until one sits and really watches it happen, mindfully attending to thoughts as they arise and subside. Really attending is one of the most difficult things to do, but it’s where the lively quality of seemingly serene practices like Zen reside: really being present is being fully alive in this moment in all of its experience.

Monkey01

The trick? It’s not to wage war on the monkey mind. It’s to gently befriend it, slowly training it to be more present and relaxed. The training in itself is almost a non-training. You don’t whip the monkey into submission; rather, you reach out your hand and invite it to be here, not jumping from tree to tree. Over time, with repetition and dedication, not being daunted by the endless task, the monkey slows a bit, listens a bit more, sits with you with whatever is happening right now. It may only last a moment, but as the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

Better than one hundred years lived
With an unsettled [mind],
Devoid of insight,
Is one day lived
With insight and absorbed in meditation.
The Dhammapada – line 111 (Trans. Fronsdal)

With that in mind, even a few moments of such attentive absorption and insight are most valuable indeed.


May this inspire you to try spending less time on autopilot.

Gassho!

Flashes of insight

After having begun a regular practice of meditation, sometimes I have fleeting moments of insight. They aren’t during meditation rather during the day. Suddenly, briefly, I see and understand reality as it is on an experiential rather than a conceptual level.

For instance, I’ve been reading about dream yoga from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. An important part of the practice is to regularly tell yourself that “All this is just a dream”. This is done for your waking life, not your dreaming one (ultimately, this aims at being able to lucidly recognize dreams as dreams while in them, by cultivating insight during waking life). The point is to recognize the fluctuating impermanence of existence. There is no underlying essence that endures–all changes and is ephemeral, like in a dream. This is easy enough to explain and understand conceptually. It is basically the same as the Buddhist concept of emptiness or shunyata, but this dream yoga manner of touching the concept presents it through a familiar, intimate life experience.

However, this is still conceptual. The practice is meant to be experienced, rather than just thought. Well and good, but it is harder to experience “This is all just a dream” about your waking life than you might think.

Recently, I was struggling with some turbulent emotions. I went to the bathroom mirror, looked myself in the eye and brought a meditative focus to all I was feeling. Then, I said “This is all just a dream”. Instead of understading this, I felt it. All of the roiling emotions appeared as so many dreamlike images with no underlying substance, glowing and dissolving. The sense of realization was charged and powerful: it was felt, not thought. The experience was deeper than I can express in words. Such moments of lived flashes of insight is opened, I believe, from regular meditation, and I encourage all you readers out there to take up meditation for yourselves.

May this inspire you to seek wisdom and insight through meditation.
Gassho