I reflect on some of my experiences along this journey of meditation. Like a travel guide, perhaps this may be useful for those starting or considering to start the journey. Though the experiences of each individual may differ. Here’s a breakdown of the sections:
- In the Beginning
- Later On – A Helpful Practice
- A Pivotal Event – Catching the Ninja!
- More Recently – Awareness of Awareness
In the Beginning
Until I started meditation, I probably had no idea how much “I” resided in the world of thought and self-talk. More specifically, how unconsciously immersed I could be in thought – thinking in its many flavors such as replaying, analyzing, planning, deciding, worrying, judging, criticizing, regretting, contemplating, exploring and so on.
When I started to attend guided meditation sessions with teachers, I recall the difficulty in maintaining my attention on some anchor such as the breath, the sensation of the belly moving, the labeling of thoughts, the texture of a raisin or a beautiful memory. The attention would invariably and unconsciously seem to evaporate and I’d be back to being lost in thought and self-talk. “Thinking without being aware of thinking” seemed to have the attraction power of a strong magnet and the near-invisibility of a ninja.
After some time, I’d realize that I had been lost in thought (again) – often via a soft reminder: “If you notice that your mind has wandered, gently guide your attention back to the anchor.” I’d then refocus the attention back to the anchor. The three-step sequence of “1) focusing on an anchor, 2) thinking and 3) noticing that I’d been lost in thoughts” would repeat itself throughout the session. Where, percentage-wise, I’d reside mostly in the thinking state of 2).
Later on – A Helpful Practice
It was a struggle for me to meditate and reside more in the focusing state of 1) above. An idea arose which would help develop the ability to focus my attention on an anchor and catch myself more readily if and when lost in thought. While seated or reclined, I would observe the thoughts and write a very brief description of them as they arose. For example, “Birds singing, car sound, pen moving, lined paper, breathing, belly moving, dry throat, thirsty, swallowing, throat, stomach, sore muscle, poor posture, sit up straight, feels better, today’s schedule, car repair, work, to-do items,…” With this practice, the ability to stay in the focusing state of 1) improved. Like working out and developing stronger muscles.
Incidentally, it was astounding to discover how many thoughts could arise over a thirty minute period. Now I can believe that oft quoted statistic of thinking some 50,000 thoughts a day.
A Pivotal Event – Catching the Ninja!
A few years ago, I had started to meditate alone without guided meditation – on the encouragement of a meditation teacher. I found it very difficult to do. I’d get frustrated and would invariably stop after five to ten minutes despite many attempts.
During one session, however, I caught the ninja. I could sense a feeling of frustration arising which had lead to terminating the meditation sessions many times before. In the midst of that familiar feeling, I somehow caught a glimpse of the thoughts “Meditation is too hard” and “I can’t do this.” Then my attention zeroed in and remained locked on those thoughts. They had probably arisen many times before and must have been camouflaged very well to go undetected for so long. Ugh. However, on this occasion, I noticed the ******* thoughts! And did not fall for them or act upon them this time. A big smile came across my lips.
This event was pivotal. I became better able to notice these particular ‘ninja’ thoughts and they gradually lost their powers – their power of invisibility and their power to trigger frustration and a stop in meditation. This opened up a new world in my journey. Not only that of enjoying the experience of meditating alone for longer durations without guided meditation. But also that of starting to catch and neutralize other ninja-like self-talk as they’d arise. Especially those that might be unhelpful, limiting, diminishing, ineffective, hurtful and so on.
- A brief poem by Portia Nelson summarizes this shift from not seeing to seeing beautifully: “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson [Nelson].
- Arun Kumar nicely describes this exposing and deprogramming of the unconscious self-talk and habits in his response in [Quora_Kumar] starting from
- “Ordinarily, you react to the experiences that come before you in much the same way that you react to your thoughts,…” to
- “… it also exposes your inner complexes, your immaturities, your unproductive reflexes and habits. Instead of living in these complexes and habits and acting them out, they are brought to your awareness and you can give them your full attention. Only then will they clear.”
More Recently – Awareness of Awareness
More recently, I have learned about re-directing the attention back on to itself as described in [KendoNotes_Awareness] rather than on some external anchor (like those mentioned above). Where attention itself would be the anchor. This invariably is accompanied by a sense of peacefulness, spaciousness and calmness as described in the article. Moreover, this same sense of awareness seems to be the ‘mirror’ described by master swordsman and kendo teachers as described in [KendoNotes_Mirror].
The challenge, for me, is my continued predilection for getting sucked back into the “as if world” of being lost-in-thoughts – rather than the “as is world” of being present as my teachers would say. Alas, a work-in-progress 🙂
May all be well with you!
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