Day 4: Entering the Labryinth of the Mind
On day four we began to explore the vast and colorful space of the mind. We have taken three weeks to explore shamatha and inquiry of body and heart. These foundations will be essential as we step into the workings of the mind. The space of the mind is broad and includes thoughts, images, memories, anticipations and feelings. Anything that you can imagine is accessible to the mind. You can explore this right now by closing your eyes and bringing to mind the image of an orange. Imagine its color, texture, shape and size. It can be a magical thing. The orange is not physically in your experience, but it is fully visualized in the mind. As you can imagine, no pun intended :), this is a powerful thing. Whereas the body and heart are present moment oriented, the mind can easily fall back into the past and fast forward into the future. The body and heart only know what they feel now. It is the mind that can remember and anticipate. This inquiry will be especially fascinating and informative with time and practice.
Pause for even a few moments and you might notice that the mind can easily fill the space. The mind is constantly spinning stories all day long. It’s akin to a faucet left running. It can be wasteful and draining to our sense of balance and health. Additionally, the nature of thought is so fast that by the time we are aware of it, we are very often identified with it. Using the tools of vipassana, we begin to explore the nature of our stories with the conscious light of awareness. Similar to emotions, we may begin to notice that stories can unfold in layers. Some stories reside at the surface, while others lie deep within. As we explore the nature of the dialogue and chatter moving through us, we choose to just see them, rather than to believe or identify immediately. We begin to see how stories of our past and future influence how we are showing up in life today. Some of the old stories are no longer needed. The opportunity to let them go only arises if we begin to see them without bias and preference. The opportunity to create a new story only manifests when we open fully and freely into this moment.
The breath will be key in this exploration. As stories move through the space of the mind, we can choose to see them and remember to return to the breath as a way of re-centering to a place free of bias. Every time we return, we build the capacity to show up with a little less baggage. When we notice dialogue or commentary unfolding, we stay with it without adding more. We allow it to be and unfold. We can investigate the nature of the story with kindness, perhaps even labeling it with words such as judging, craving, criticizing, denying. We allow the story, but choose to return fully to experiencing our breath. We can repeat and recycle this as often or as quickly as needed.
Over the course of time, we can inquire into the nature of our thoughts and how they arise, persist and subside. Does the ability to observe or witness thoughts without bias affect how long the thoughts stay with us? Am I strongly identified with this story, or can I reside in the awareness behind the story? Are my thoughts constantly changing and more multi-layered than I realize? Do my thoughts define me or are thoughts just one passing moment in the field of my experience?
As we examine the nature of the mind, patience, humor and kindness will be of great value. Instead of getting caught up in everything that arises, we might just say, “This is interesting too”. We may even begin to take more lightly all the ways in which things feel so personal to us. Maybe it’s not as personal as we make it out to be. Perhaps we can begin to identify with the space and awareness between the stories and the words, rather than identifying with the words themselves. The words are what we fabricate. There is an experience that is available to us that goes beyond our language and our stories. We hope to get a glimpse of that through this practice.
“There has been a lot of tragedy in my life. It’s a good thing that most of it never happened.”
~ Mark Twain