Monthly Archives: August 2009

On Retreat at Spirit Rock

I just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, CA. Ah, bliss!

On the last day of the retreat I felt like my mind was a still clear pond. I wasn’t spaced out or off somewhere else, as you might expect, but, on the contrary, more fully present than I had ever been. I could see my life, my choices and if there were any decisions that needed making, this would be the ideal vantage point from which to make them.

I also felt such a tender heart, as if I had set all my barriers down – fears and judgments – leaving just an expansive sweet fondness for all beings, especially my sangha (community) of 80+ fellow retreatants. Over the course of days we had become a lovely organic entity, moving smoothly and with tender care for each other, honoring each other’s practice. So that the beautiful gate down at the road really meant something: That within this area, held in this silence we could totally relax, totally release our defenses.

The silent etiquette of the retreat was the only ‘communication’ between retreatants, but it was a deep one. In our daily lives out in the regular world, this same kind of silent etiquette would smooth many passages. I think especially about going through doors on the way in and out of the meditation hall and other buildings. At Spirit Rock the hall doors all close by themselves, so if there is someone behind you, you hold it long enough for them to take over. There is this sensing of a presence behind you, a slight turn of the head to acknowledge this shared task, a sense of giving, a sense of gratitude. All done without comment or eye contact.

What rose out of the fertile spaciousness, expansive sense of time and the silence was a relaxed presence, an inner focus supported by a gentle network of kind intention and conscious awareness.

For those of you who contemplate going on a retreat but aren’t sure if it’s for you, here is a general run down of a day on retreat.

All the days between the first day and the last day hare pretty much the same schedule, which is relaxing in itself. No decisions needed, just listen to the bells and do the next thing. Bells ring to let you know it’s time to wake up, time to sit, time to walk, time to eat. Things get very simple. You get very slow. You stop and smell the proverbial roses, which in mid-summer at Spirit Rock take the shape of delicate bright yellow flowers massing in the dried golden grasses glowing in the sunlight, lightly dancing in the breeze; the scrubby golden hills studded with deep green oaks casting changing shadows from first light to last light, and you follow them all.

And then of course there are the deer, lizards and wild turkeys all of whom have a very different view of what bipeds are like from their counterparts beyond Spirit Rock. Sometimes I imagine some county-wide deer conference, and the deer from the rest of the county are skittish when they even think about bipeds. “They are loud, fast, thoughtless, especially when they are in their hard shiny moving shells. Run when you see them coming!”

And the Spirit Rock deer might say, “Hmmm, haven’t seen much of those. We don’t run from our bipeds. Why would we? They are silent, slow, and stare deep into our eyes. They’re a little strange but harmless.”

On the bulletin board where retreatants post notes to teachers and staff with questions or requests, I saw a note “To the deer” – an enraptured love poem no doubt. To my knowledge the deer never got to read it. But I’m sure the sense of it was felt.

Schedule
The schedule for this retreat was a little different from most because it was a yoga and meditation retreat, so some of the walking meditation periods were replaced by yoga. But other than that the following schedule, recorded to the best of my recollection, is not atypical of a day on retreat.

5:30 bell
6:00 meditation
6:45 breakfast
7:30 yogi job
9:00 meditation
9:45 walking meditation
10:30 yoga
12:00 meditation
12:30 lunch (a large meal)
2:30 meditation
3:15 walking meditation
4:00 yoga
4:45 meditation
5:30 tea (a lighter meal)
7:00 meditation
7:45 dharma talk
8:30 walking meditation
9:00 meditation & chanting

If you do not get to the first meditation, no one will come pull you out of bed, but it is highly recommended, in order to get the full benefit of the retreat experience.

Silence explained.
Retreatants are in silence all of the time except in interview with teachers. We meet in small groups twice over the course of the retreat so the teachers can check in with us, see how we are doing and answer any questions.

The teachers are not in silence but are respectful of the silence, as are the staff, so that you don’t hear talking very often. If you have a question or problem, you leave a note on a bulletin board for housekeeping, cooking staff or the teachers. You can’t leave notes for other retreatants.

No Reading and No Writing
Yes! I know, these are two activities that are so closely interwoven into my normal daily life and the lives of so many people I know, and never with any sense of them being activities one ought not to waste time on (like TV) that it comes as a shock to be asked to relinquish them. At dharma talks so much wonderful information is being so entertainingly shared, it is challenging not to want to make notes, but for the most part retreatants resist. The dharma talks are taped and made available on Dharmaseed.org, so notes aren’t necessary. But no reading? Not even something at bedside? It really does seem like being requested to give up oxygen. But it’s surprisingly easy to do. And valuable to experience.

Food
How’s the food? One word: delicious! Also nutritious and bountiful. You will not starve on a Spirit Rock retreat. The Buddha taught the Middle Way, so denial of simple pleasures is not one of the Buddhist tenets.

That said, if you are an avid meat eater, there will be an adjustment to a vegetarian diet. While you are allowed to bring your own cooked, canned meats, I recommend giving Spirit Rock cooks a chance to convince you that you can survive without it. There may be foods you haven’t tried before, but it’s all good. To calm the terror of people who are afraid they will not get enough food or enough protein in particular, the communal refrigerator is stocked with hard boiled eggs, nut butter and other goodies. And the cupboard has crackers and other fillers. You can stop in to the dining hall any time day or night and nibble or drink tea. But the meals are quite filling, and I found I never needed a second helping of anything, and in fact had to cut back to even smaller portions as my britches were getting tight!

Retreatants can bring their own special needs food as well, but it must be stored in the dining hall refrigerator and cupboard. No food is allowed in the rooms.

Special dietary requirements (gluten intolerance, allergies) are accommodated with substitutes for main dishes at a separate table. But the cooks request that these be actual physical necessities rather than preferences, as it is a challenge to create extra dishes when you are already feeding 80+ people three times a day!

The dining hall itself is an architectural delight and an acoustical disaster. On my previous retreat I wrote a poem on the fourth day that likened all the plate clatter and chair scraping to a symphony. This retreat I never quite got to that point of aural euphoria, but even so, there is a sweetness to it if you recognize that all the noises are products of the earnest efforts of mindful diners. For those who can’t take it, there are picnic tables outside and beautiful quiet views.

Sleeping Quarters

The four dormitory buildings at Spirit Rock are built in the same beautiful Japanese influenced architectural style as the rest of the retreat area. Each is named for one of the Four Brahmaviharas: Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy), and Upekka (equilibrium). Each building is two stories with eleven rooms on each floor. Each room (many singles, some double) is simple white walled, with a single bed, bedside table, folding chair, small sink and storage for clothing and personal items. Each has a single window either looking out over the hills or into the woods.

You can bring your own sheets and towels or rent them from Spirit Rock ($10 for all).

Each floor has an ample bathroom with double sinks, two toilet stalls and two showers (one has a tub). I never had to wait for use of any of the above.

There are accommodations for special needs such as wheelchair access, chemical sensitivities and allergies.

Except for those kinds of special accommodations, retreatants are asked to have no preferences as to shared or solitary room. It is part of Buddhist practice to accept what is given without preference. Our preferences really just get in the way of being available to whatever experience arises. You may prefer a solitary room but discover a sweetness in sharing one with someone you never met. You just don’t know.

Hiking
After meals there are free periods where you might take hikes around the land. Spirit Rock has lots of hiking trails, through the grassy hills, up onto ridges, or up into canyons. Most trails offer a little Buddhist treat of a stone Buddha statue, a platform to sit on and meditate on the glories of nature, or an altar on which you can place mementos of loved ones who have passed on.

Because Spirit Rock is truly out in the middle of open nature, if you have any issues about lizards, snakes, etc., this might not be the retreat center for you. However, it might be just the place to work through your issues. Your choice!

Yogi Jobs
At some point during your free periods, or possibly during a walking meditation period, you have your ‘yogi job’. Every retreatant signs up to participate in the loving care of Spirit Rock or the feeding of fellow retreatants. The daily jobs are simple kitchen or housekeeping tasks that are easy to fulfill. The retreatant who takes them on with a ‘chop wood, carry water’ meditative attitude can find insight in even the most mundane tasks. In general the kitchen jobs require some degree of coming out of silence, since some collaboration is required. The housekeeping jobs are more solitary and can usually be done completely in silence. Full training for all jobs is provided the first evening of the retreat.

Bells
The belle of the retreat ball is literally the Buddhist bell. And my greatest joy on retreat is to be a bell ringer. I wrote a poem after my last retreat about the joys of bell ringing, and how the bell bowl, shown at the top of this blog, was purchased at the end of the retreat as a result of this powerful emotional response I seem to have to the bells. On this retreat I was too late to sign up for bell ringing. I was disappointed, but the disappointment was just fodder for noticing preferences. But that first evening they announced that they still needed a 2:15 PM bell ringer, and my hand shot right up! That was the bell ringer I was last time, and it’s a wonderful two-fold task, where you take the portable bell through the dormitories to wake any nappers, and then go out and ring the big bell in front of the meditation hall.

On the last day that I would ring the bell, I was full of so much emotion at the thought of not being able to ring it again, and also the retreat coming to a close, that my eyes welled up with tears. Powerful stuff, these retreats.

I am one of the fortunate ones who is at Spirit Rock once a week all year long. So many people came from all over the country, all over the world even, to attend this retreat. But even I in my weekly visits don’t see the beauty of the early morning sun filtered through the fog, the last light in the afternoon casting great shadows and shimmering the tips of the golden grasses. Nor do I get to walk out, the chanting of Om Mani Padme Hum ringing in my head to lie on a bench and stare up at the stars – the same stars as every place else, but somehow richer and deeper in the light-free San Geronimo Valley where Spirit Rock is nestled.

I hope I have given you some feeling of what it is like to be on retreat. Everyone’s experience is different, but they are really just variations on a theme. Everyone struggles with their own thoughts and emotions, their own physical challenges with so much sitting, their own weight of expectations and judgments. But at the end of the retreat, you can see in the faces as we form a closing circles and the nameless fellow retreatants become named, that all have been touched, moved and changed by the richness of this very personal experience.

The Spirit Rock website is listed in my list of links on the right side of this blog. Check it out. See if there is a retreat for you!

Please feel free to ask questions by clicking on ‘comment’ below, in case there is something I haven’t addressed to your satisfaction.

Dana: The Mystery of How Much to Give

I am on retreat this week at Spirit Rock, so there is no class, therefore no dharma talk to post here. But attending a retreat reminds me that I haven’t shared here about the tradition of giving dana (donation) to the teachers. Actually at Spirit Rock, all the retreat staff – the cooks and housekeeping staff – also work on a dana basis. Donations by the retreatants are vital.

As class manager for the Friday morning class at Spirit Rock, I am called upon every week to explain what dana is. Here is what I tell people:

In this tradition (Vipassana, Insight, Thai Forest Buddhist tradition) the teachings are considered priceless, so Spirit Rock doesn’t pay the teachers! Instead we are asked to support the teachers with our donations. We do this out of a sense of gratitude for the teachings, in order to develop in ourselves the spirit of generosity, and so that the teachers may continue to teach.

People often ask me, “How do you figure out how much to give?” I say:

When you arrive at the beginning of class, you might figure out how much dana to give based on your budget, how much a similar class might cost elsewhere, how much you notice others are putting in the dana basket, etc. But if you wait and pay at the end of class, you will add in the important factors of: the difference between how you felt when you arrived and how you feel now, how much feels like a true expression of your gratitude, and what amount feels generous to give, not creating a hardship, but not holding back either.

When we go on retreat we take several vows, one of which is to take only what is freely given. The teachings are given freely, but with the trust that the retreatants will value what they have received and will be as generous as the teachers have been with their wisdom, skill and experience.

I know that doesn’t really answer the question, but that’s fine. The answer will come fresh to you with each class or retreat. Remember that the word dana in the Pali language means generosity.

I teach my class on a dana basis and I truly appreciate the support. It is financing this retreat I am off to right now! Some day perhaps it will make it possible to spend more time focusing on this area of my life rather than commercial aspects. Thank you!

Freedom from ‘Our Story’ through Meditation

We talk about the lure of thoughts during meditation, but what about when we are not meditating: Don’t we have to go back to thinking? If we didn’t, how could we live in the world?

Vipassana or insight meditation is about staying present with what is in our current experience so that we develop the skill of being present in our daily lives as well. When we live our lives fully present, we discover how rich and satisfying it can be, so we are less likely to want to get lost in what we call ‘our story.’ Practicing this form of meditation where we simply ‘sit and know that we are sitting,’ as many Spirit Rock teachers say, we learn to differentiate between the thinking that is useful and necessary for living and the thinking that is keeping us from living fully.

‘Our story’ is all the thoughts we have about our lives, about the people in our lives, usually flavored with all our wants, fears and judgments. Since we were children this is the kind of thoughts we have had, just like everyone else in our culture. But these thoughts are neither nurturing nor fulfilling. We may get very emotionally stimulated as we have them, but ultimately they leave us feeling confused and somehow wounded. They do not bring about a joyful sense of ease. They only stir up our anxieties and our dissatisfaction with things as they are. Our story is very good at creating suffering.

You may well wonder how we could possibly be freed from our story when it is so very much a part of the fabric of who we perceive ourselves to be. And anyway we like our story. Even if it does make us miserable, it’s our story, thank you very much. We don’t want it taken away….Okay, we allow that thought to be present as we explore a little further. We can hold both because we have spacious minds!

Allow me to suggest that our attachment to ‘our story’ is as if we have been brought up exclusively on a diet of pre-packaged chemically-enhanced ultra-sweet sponge cake and we can’t figure out why we don’t feel well. We go about in a fog and we look for a way out, but it would never cross our minds to stop eating this food that is our cultural heritage, that is celebrated and venerated, that everyone we know eats as well. It would be outrageous to even consider. And yet, here we are in a fog, in misery at least part of the time. We never feel absolutely well, absolutely comfortable in our skins, absolutely at home in the world. We can’t even imagine what that would be like.

Our story is junk food for the mind. Meditation offers a wholesome diet comparable to organic vegetables and whole grains. Peace, quiet, tranquility, authenticity, groundedness, spaciousness, and awareness: These are the wholesome foods for our minds.

Just as if we had spent our lives eating only junk food, if we have spent out lives caught up fully in our story, and if our culture has fed our story with non-stop distractions in the form of news, gossip and advertisements, just for starters, then how could we imagine this presence of mind that meditation teachers talk about? It’s a dilemma that leaves the majority of the population stuck in their stories. They hear about meditation, about long retreats in silence, and they run screaming from the room. “I’d be bored out of my gourd! I need my radio, iPod, computer, television, phone, etc.”

But not you! You sensed something was missing on your plate. You felt that the junk-thought life style was not satisfying you. Even though maybe you weren’t sure what it was you were hungering for, you braved giving meditation a try to see if it had some nourishment for you. You turned off the technological distractions and sat for a while in silence.

Good choice! Of course, just like tasting broccoli for the first time, or switching from processed white bread to whole grain, it can take a while to develop a taste for it. Perhaps at first sitting practice feels weird. Perhaps we can’t concentrate. Perhaps we are uncomfortable. Perhaps we spend our whole sit convincing ourselves this is stupid.

But if we stay with it, the benefits will start making themselves known. As we notice that we feel more relaxed, more spacious, more generous, less angry, less anxious, and generally happier, we develop a taste for this more wholesome diet of mind.

Our story is still there but it is not our whole meal. And as we practice bringing our attention to the present moment and discover the riches available to us in that simple act of paying attention to what is, we find we are less and less dependent on our story.

So, what is our story and why is it junk food? Our story is first and foremost the things we believe to be true about ourselves, others and the world around us. Before we begin to meditate, often our story is pretty solid. We don’t just believe, we know what is true, what is right. We know it all.

But as we meditate, we begin to recognize that this hard fast knowing is something we have been clinging to, something that we felt made us safe. As we develop spaciousness of mind, we begin to feel a deeper sense of safety, not dependent on causes and conditions. We feel safe enough to begin to question some of our long held assumptions. We soften some of the hard knots of the tangle of story we have been caught up in for so long. The more spacious our minds become, the less tangled the story threads become. They don’t disappear, but we can see them for what they are. And we no longer cling to them. Eventually we recognize that the story is not a safety net but a heavy weight that has been keeping us from really living.

When in our daily lives we get caught up in story, when we gossip about others, when we are blindly bent on satisfying some craving, eventually we come back to the present moment. And we recognize the unpleasant residual sensations of having been entangled with story. As we get more practiced, we can notice sooner when we are caught up in story, perhaps at the moment we are beginning to act out our urge to binge or gossip or rage about the injustice of it all. We can see it, we can really hear what we are saying to ourselves (or others), we can question whether it is really true, we can notice the emotional tone and where we feel it in our body, we can see where it might have come from, we can see the fear that prompted it, and we can compassionately bring our new-found awareness to bear on the situation.

Now believing we can live a life free of story is, of course, just another story to get caught up in, one that makes us dissatisfied with the truth of our experience. So we develop a relationship with our story that is as compassionate as we can manage in this moment. We recognize story for what it is. We understand that we can still be attracted to the empty calorie promises it offers. We set our intention to be as skillful as we are able so that we are not forcing our story on others.

Many aha moments arise out of this noticing when we are caught up in our story. Perhaps we can soften our judgment enough to smile at the way we are so easily drawn in yet again. And we can rejoice in awareness that offers us the freedom to let go of our story. Again and again.

As I mentioned in the last post about the lure of thoughts, it is that moment of release from delusion, from being so caught up in our story, that is really pivotal. Suddenly we have freedom and choice. At this point it is good to remember to focus on one of the many sense anchors to the present moment we have available to us: rubbing the texture of cloth on our clothes, sensing our breath, really looking at the light and shadow, shapes, colors and textures of the world around us, hearing whatever ambient sound there is – whatever works, to bring us as fully as possible into the present moment. I am at this very moment feeling the smooth texture of the computer keys under my fingers.

Why is this present moment freedom and our story is not?
Our story is based on the belief that we are separate. Our story runs on the finite, depletable, polluting energy of fear. Check out for yourself if this is true. Notice your stories. Question what is driving them.

Many of our stories begin with the words “If only…”: “If only I had more time,” “If only I wasn’t so….,” “If only he wasn’t so…,” “If only the world wasn’t so…,” “If only I were – fill in the blank: richer, thinner, smarter, more compassionate, etc.” This ‘if only’ is a stick to beat ourselves up. It is a violence we do to ourselves and others, and is based purely on fear.

If we truly felt ourselves to be deeply connected to all that is, then the stories would fall away. What on earth would we wish for that we don’t already have in some part of our vastly extended self, the self not defined by I, me, mine? When we have this sense of joy for the fullness of life through our connection, we experience mudita, happiness for the happiness of others, because there is no ‘other’. All joy is all of our joy.

It’s easy for us to hear this kind of talk and immediately start another story. “If only I could sense my connection to all that is, if only I could feel happiness for the happiness of others because there is no other! Then I’d be happy!”

Yes, we continually deal with our stories. But as we become aware of them, we come out of the fog of them, out of that tight tangle woven by the thought threads that make up these seemingly ironclad tales that we have held to be truth for so long. Then we can see them simply as story, and allow ourselves to be curious, to explore the nature of the tales we tell ourselves. We can question the validity of our stories in a way that we couldn’t when we believed we were our stories. It was too threatening to our existence to question them then. But as we begin to get an inkling of an understanding of the vast expansiveness of our being, we may be willing to let go of our dependence on our stories. And that is freedom.

So then what are necessary thoughts?
In our daily lives we have the thoughts that are necessary in that moment in order to take care of any responsibilities we may have. If we are on retreat and we have only the responsibility to get to the zafu when the bell rings, to set our intention to be mindful, to do our daily yogi job with full mindfulness, to eat mindfully, etc., then there are very few thoughts that are necessary. This gives us a great opportunity to see our story more clearly. Because we cannot pretend it is necessary in this moment to solve past, future or distant problems.

In our daily lives obviously we have more responsibilities. We have the care of our bodies, our home, our relationships and our financial stability to think about. But how many of our thoughts directed to these responsibilities are useful? How many are like wholesome fresh vegetable thoughts that nourish and how many are an old smelly stew we keep churning and churning? If we are paying attention we can tell the difference.

It is helpful to identify when you want to think actively about something. Set aside a period of time to plan a trip, solve a problem, or find a job, for example, and really focus on doing all that is required. Do the research, make lists. Have a thinking period that actually moves your plan forward. Otherwise it’s just a daydream story. Much of our story is really just procrastination thoughts, giving ourselves excuses about why we aren’t making that dentist appointment, fixing that broken toilet, writing that report, etc. We go around and around in our heads about it so many times, over and over, you’d think we’d get dizzy! Actual doing something about it takes up much less thinking space! As one of my students aptly put it, “You know you’re going to have to do it at some point, so just get on with it.”

With relationships you may find that thinking about them is not nearly so useful as you might have believed. In fact, most relationships would be much improved with less thinking and more being fully present, really listening, really appreciating each other, and responding from a deep heartfelt sensing in to the truth for us in this moment. Not dragging in all that old story!

This discerning between what is story and what is necessary thought arises out of the regular practice of meditation. It is not something you have to add to your to do list. It is just something you might notice in your own practice. If you don’t notice it, don’t worry. Just know that your practice itself is the door to freedom.

Freedom from believing we are our thoughts

We have finished our exploration of creativity, having explored it from many different angles. Now I’d like to begin to explore another concept in the same way: the idea of freedom.

The first exploration is freedom from believing we are our thoughts. We looked into this last July, and I would like to revisit it here with a new analogy that might further help to clarify our relationship with thoughts.

Think of it this way: A thought is a thread attached to the past or the future that dangles a hook in front of us flashing a very attractive lure. As meditators, we train ourselves to notice the lure but stay present in the vast ocean of our awareness. We have no need to be plucked out of this present moment. There is nothing in it for us that could be more deeply satisfying and nurturing than this.

However it is, as I said, a very attractive lure. So of course at times we grab it. And off we go, drawn into a wild ride in the emotionally turbulent waters of remembering or planning, worrying or regretting, daydreaming or judging.

Fortunately, the universe participates in a catch and release program, and eventually we are unhooked from our thread of thought and we can return to the vast ocean of awareness. This release moment is a crucial one. Suddenly freed, we have the capacity to be aware. Because we are free and aware, we have a choice. It’s very important to recognize that we did not have a choice while we were being reeled in. We made the choice to take the lure, but once taken we were in a state of helplessness. Therefore, it makes no sense to give ourselves a hard time about how long we were caught up in that thread of thought, how long it took us to be released from that hook. In fact, the impulse to beat ourselves up is simply another lure very attractively placed at every release point. At every point where we have a choice, there is yet another lure dangling before us that will take us on a wild ride of recrimination, judgment and frustration with our seeming inability to meditate.

Eventually we learn to recognize the dangling lure for what it is: a distraction from really experiencing life first hand. We can appreciate its beauty and let it pass. We can notice all sorts of threads of thoughts in our sea of awareness and we can let them pass as if they are schools of fish passing through. Instead of being like fish constantly searching for the next tasty morsel and discovering that it’s attached to a hook, we can be like the swaying kelp or coral settled in to the ocean floor that senses all fully, appreciates it, engages with it, but doesn’t get taken for a ride. Instead it nurtures all life.

In this state we can experience the emotions as the water itself. (In dream analysis, water represents emotion so this works out well!) Sitting quietly, receptively on the ocean floor we experience the emotions fully but we are anchored, so we sway with the currents of emotions as they pass through our awareness, but we are not tossed about by them.

In meditation we have access to the finest gift of life: Presence of mind, the ability to be fully present with our experience in each moment. This is the best gift possible for it turns every experience, even the most ordinary, even the most painful, into something rich, multi-layered, extraordinary. We develop through regular meditation the ability to pierce the veils, the filters that for so long obscured our view of the world around us and our own experience.

So why, when we are sitting in meditation, blessed by the greatest gift ever, are we still so attracted to the lures that dangle before us? Because we are human and these lures were designed with us in mind. So we will grab them, we will feel helpless, and we may struggle to be released, our efforts only entangling us more. But it is okay. Because when we relax our bodies, when we breathe and become aware of our breath, or of a sound or another sensation, then we will be released.

And at that moment we have the opportunity and freedom to choose.

We can flap around scolding ourselves, making waves, creating tension, getting caught up in the tangle of dangling thought threads, and convince ourselves that the flash of a lure is our ticket out of this mess. Only to find ourselves once again helplessly caught.

Or we can choose to feel gratitude for being returned to awareness. We can relax our muscles and our minds. We can restate our intention to be fully present and to be kind to ourselves in the process.

With practice we learn to recognize the lures, we learn to rest in awareness, we learn to be the coral or the kelp nurturing life at the bottom of the vast sea of awareness.

Now I would not use this analogy while leading meditation because some meditators may feel uncomfortable imagining themselves underwater. They would feel the lack of air. For some reason this doesn’t bother me. Perhaps I had gills in a past life!

But it does make a good analogy to consider and be aware of. In this analogy it is clear that we are not our thoughts. They arrive as lures cast out by some unknown and even unseen source. This is the true nature of thoughts and it is a hard one to grasp. Until we understand that we are not our thoughts, we feel responsible for them. We are responsible for our words and our actions, the way we interact in the world, but our thoughts are just floating threads that we observe with passing interest.

Our actions will affect the nature of our thoughts. If we constantly expose ourselves to fear-based entertainment or hang out with people whose view of life is very negative, who out of fear feel the need to put others down, to gossip about people, to judge them, or who feel so separate from the world that they believe the community’s rules are not for them, then our thoughts, just like our dreams, will be affected.

As we bring more awareness into our lives, we recognize how our actions and choices can foster thoughts that stir up the waters, muddying our view. We can change our actions, make healthier choices and the thoughts will begin to change as well.

But still, they are only thoughts. They do not rule us or define us. They are just passing threads through our sea of awareness.