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.