Welcome back to our discussion on meditation. Last month, I asked you to commit to a daily practice of five minutes, sitting with your eyes closed and simply noticing your thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
This style of meditation, known as vipassana, helps us become more aware of how our minds work. With practice, it becomes clear that thoughts generally appear on their own, often out of nowhere, as opposed to us “consciously” thinking them. Likewise, they spontaneously disappear, moving through our awareness like clouds in the sky.
Through vipassana, we discover that our minds exist somewhat independently; we exist in relationship with our minds as opposed to being one and the same as them. This insight can radically shift our sense of who we are as conscious beings and how we operate.
While it’s important to understand how our minds generate thoughts and emotions, what can we actually do in terms of dealing with them? Thankfully, vipassana can also be utilized as an effective tool for self-regulation.
The basic instruction here is to get out of the way by allowing your thoughts and emotions to arise and disappear on their own. We don’t need to suppress thoughts of despair or fits of anger. Instead, notice and accept them by simply experiencing them without trying to change anything. In time, usually far shorter than we expect, those thoughts and emotions will disappear like rain clouds in a passing shower.
To appreciate the principle of this technique, imagine a barking, agitated dog in a cage. What is the best strategy for calming and quieting it? Yelling at it to stop or prodding it with a stick would only agitate the dog further. A more effective approach would be to place the cage in the middle of a wide-open field and just unlock the door. At first, the dog would likely continue barking and run around aggressively. But after a while, recognizing that it is no longer caged in and sensing the expansive space around, the dog would eventually just lie down quietly on its own.
Likewise, giving space to our thoughts and emotions through simply allowing them to come and go creates an inner environment for our minds to settle down on their own. With continued practice, the space between thoughts will grow longer, revealing a natural calm and quiet which underlies the superficial noise of our inner chatter.
In meditation, change happens by doing nothing. Like magic! This principle is counterintuitive, especially compared to how we have been trained to operate in our lives: “Nothing comes from nothing, so you must work hard to achieve anything!” This philosophy is not wrong in principle and certainly drives us to accomplish a lot, both individually and collectively.
Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t work when applied to the workings of our minds and hearts. The more effort and pressure we exert internally, the more entrenched and intense our thoughts and emotions become. We need a different approach, and thousands of years of meditative investigation have demonstrated that allowing our experiences just as they are gets the job done.
This month, I encourage you to continue your vipassana practice, aiming for eight minutes every day. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and experience your thoughts, emotions, and sensations just as they are without trying to change anything.
- Pay special attention to how thoughts arise and fall away.
- Investigate whether the technique of allowing can effectively resolve unwanted thoughts and emotions.
- Notice when the stretches of space between your thoughts are longer or shorter. Just be aware of the experience of those in-between, non-thinking moments.
Keep going and let me know how you’re doing in the comments section below.
Aaron, I would love it if you led some kind of a retreat. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that working with you saved my life.
Thanks, Bethany! Offering longer, in-person engagements – including retreats – will certainly happen at some point so thanks for expressing your interest. Stay tuned!
Just what I needed to read this morning. Thank you
So glad to hear that! These posts are intended to offer practical value for real lives so thanks for letting me know that this one was relevant and timely.