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Part IV – Chapter 26

Stop unnecessary thinking.

Notice meditation involves some “paradoxes”. You want to stop all volition – but that is a major act of agency! You want to be fully present as a Subject, attentive to all that’s going on, and yet you don’t want to change anything: you don’t want to stop fantasying or thinking, but only to observe it happening – but that of course “changes everything”! You want to get beyond your “ego”, that ever present heavy “I”, which is a fiction, an erroneous extrapolation from phenomena, you want it to disappear – yet you are never more “present” than when you succeed!

Such conundrums can at times, in early stages, seem muddling and even paralyzing. We are trying apparently to “square the circle”. We get tied into knots difficult to unravel. This too feeds thought. Here too, we must learn to cut the Gordian knot and move on. The key is to realize that when discourse gets stuck like this, it does not mean that the action contemplated is impossible. It is a problem of discourse, not action. Go on with your meditation, and put aside all philosophical speculations (leave them for some other time, when you are not meditating).

Don’t blame others for the problems you encounter inside yourself or in your life. Avoid negative judgment of others, for it is only a way to divert attention from your own problems. Don’t let negative emotions arise and take over your consciousness – no disgust, resentment, anger or hatred. Stop them dead as soon as possible (and it is possible at any stage). Such thoughts and emotions are useless, and they hamper inner peace.

Similarly, avoid delighting in things that give you pleasure. Let the thought of them pass without greed. Think: my body and mind are mine, they belong to me in the sense that they are associated with me and I am to some extent responsible for them, but they are not me, not to be identified with myself, my soul. When I attach myself to positive or negative sensations, thoughts, emotions, I confuse myself with things really external to myself.

When you manage to stop active thought, a sort of passive thought process occurs – consisting of echoes of thoughts, velleities of thought, pretexts to pursue thought. It is as if your (automatic) mind is trying to tempt or provoke you to think, because it feels uncomfortable or vulnerable with inner silence. One of these passing thoughts may eventually hook you, like a fish caught seizing a dangling worm; then the thought drags you on a long journey, till you realize you what is going on and opt out.

This underlying tendency to thought in the mind may be viewed as a “background noise”, without which mind just disappears. The mind’s contents are mere holograms, inner light and sound projections without much substance; in their absence, there is no mind. When we allow ourselves to get absorbed by thoughts, we give this mind tendency free reign. More precisely, if we do not switch off the “automatic pilot” of mind, it strongly draws us into chains of thought.

In this perspective, one can understand and feel compassion for people who are overwhelmed by their thoughts, sometimes to the degree of committing crimes apparently “against their own will”. If we have not acquired the habit to check our thoughts, they have a momentum of their own, and can counsel us to do some regrettable deeds. It takes an effort to stop the mind’s anarchic tendencies. It is not so easy, especially if we try to do it “by force”. Rather, the way to do it is by gently, gradually calming the mind through meditation.

To eventually control thought, one should develop a habit of not talking too much, if at all[1]. For a start, don’t talk more than necessary to yourself; avoid ongoing discussions within your head or out loud. Use your mind efficiently. Monologue is important and difficult enough to resist – but even more important and difficult is avoiding unnecessary discussions with other people, about this, that and the other.

For in dialogue, you have two or more minds at work, babbling away, feeding each other material that keeps the conversation going on and on. Chance eruptions of thought in one mind stimulate new eruptions of thought in the other. There may be no connection between the discourses of the people concerned. People more often than not talk at, rather than to, each other. They seem to just want to release through speech some energy pent up inside them[2]. They search for something more to add, to make sure they have exhausted their conversational reserves.

Another wise precaution is to minimize input of stimuli like the news, in newspapers, on TV or the Web. Most journalists seem intent on producing the maximum amount of worry and anger in us, as they pound us with an endless barrage of bad and maddening news stories. It is probably best to ignore it all, and concentrate on spiritual concerns.

Our minds may be variously “elastic”, i.e. able to bounce back to natural peace quickly or slowly. When one sits down to meditate, one has a certain amount of “echo” of sounds and sights leftover in the mind, which takes varying amounts of time to die down. Emotions can be particularly persistent. Perhaps some people have a quicker rate of recovery of inner peace than others (and likewise, the same person has sometimes a quicker rate than at other times).

Just as in the physical domain, the skin tissue of a youth quickly recovers its smoothness if we pinch it, whereas that of an aged person takes more time – so in the mental domain, individuals may have varying mental elasticity. This refers not only to sights and sounds – but also to emotions; for instance, if one feels anger surge – it may subside quickly or do so with difficulty. And indeed, the idea can be extended to all thoughts; for instance, if one has some worry, it is variously possible to stop thinking about it.

If we wish to achieve the meditative state of being “in the present”, we must obviously train ourselves to have more elastic minds – minds able to switch off a thought at will.

The easiest way to achieve non-thought is to abstain from thought from the moment you wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) to meditate. Don’t stir up thoughts before you sit to meditate, and you will have that much less work to do once you sit. It is also wise to get in touch with your inner yearning for enlightenment and love of meditation practice, so that you are well motivated and your attention is sincerely focused as you prepare to sit.

When you sit, immediately position your attention (as it were) at the mental place where thoughts spout forth. Go to the very root of thought formation inside your mind, and stop thoughts from even arising (so you will have no need to suppress them thereafter). This is an efficient, surprisingly easy technique – a shortcut to steady presence of mind in the here and now. Seeking nothing, just sit… and sit… and sit.

[1] Strictly speaking, this includes talking in writing (which is of course just what I am doing now)!

[2] In some cases, the process is triggered and kept up by a seeming need of attention; as if people need to be acknowledged to exist by being listened and talked to. Conversation also of course serves as a means of social bonding.

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