Thoughts can drive you crazy when you’re trying to learn how to meditate.
Especially trying to stop them.
Vipassana is the meditation method Buddha used to reach Enlightenment.
Maybe you heard, or read, that ‘Empty Mind’ or ‘No Thought’ is the definition of what Vipassana meditation is all about.
Immediately, you started thinking that your mind is supposed to be empty of thoughts the first time you meditate. When, after two, three, four sessions, you discovered that it’s impossible to empty your over-worked, busy mind, you got frustrated.
You started thinking that something’s wrong with you. Or, worse yet, that something’s wrong with meditation.
There’s nothing wrong.
The untrained mind creates thoughts. Training your mind requires love, patience and work. A good teacher speeds up the process immensely.
Be kind to yourself. Nobody gets empty mind the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time.
Simply observing your thoughts, not forcing them to go away, is what meditation’s all about.
Discovering empty mind, then growing the state, can take years under retreat conditions.
But wait! Don’t give up and stop reading! Or meditating.
How to Meditate –Just Observe
You see, Vipassana is all about observing. It’s not about ‘No Thought.’
You observe your breath. And you OBSERVE your thoughts. You don’t follow your thoughts and mind stories. You watch them.
You’re watching for a gap between your thoughts. A little space where there’s no thoughts at all.
And then, when you discover emptiness in the gaps between your thoughts, you observe emptiness.
And then, when something wonderfully magical happens in emptiness (I’m not gonna tell you what), you observe that.
So Vipassana is all about observing. Just watching. That’s all. Thoughts and emotions come and go. After a while you perceive a gap between two thoughts. Emptiness appears in the gap. Something frightening but wonderful happens in emptiness.
But you just keep calmly watching. That’s Vipassana.
Watching your thoughts is like when you’re watching TV, but you’re really focused on listening for the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. You don’t want to miss the car and your friends, so the TV doesn’t really have your attention. Your mind is not engaged with the TV. The TV is just there.
Your mind is really focused on listening in that emptiness of no car sound. Even though the TV is making noise, you’re waiting for the sound of the car to fill the void of no car.
It’s discovering and observing that elusive emptiness of nothing (the void of no car sound) that meditation is all about.
Thoughts and other disturbances are always present in your mind, but you know those aren’t what you’re waiting for, so you just let them be –like you let be the sound of the wrong cars passing by your house. You observe them without really paying attention to them.
What you’re waiting for in Vipassana is a gap (not the sound of a car filled with your friends). A small gap between the thoughts that you’re observing, but not really engaged with. A small instant when there’s really no thoughts at all.
This small gap between thoughts is like the emptiness of no car sound that your mind is in while you’re listening for the car filled with your friends and half watching TV.
As you get deeper into meditation, you start discovering more and more of these gaps. The gaps get longer and longer. Then, one amazing meditation session, you realize that the thoughts are gone. The gaps have won!
When the thought comes that the thoughts are gone, elusive emptiness frustratingly vanishes.
But you experienced it once. You can do it again.
It’s very important to go straight back into emptiness as soon as possible. Like immediately. Simply calm yourself, go back to observing, and just float into the nothing between thoughts.
Here’s a step by step how to meditate guide for trying Vipassana:
- Sit in the meditation posture you worked out in How to Meditate –Your Posture
- Do the abdominal breathing you learned in How to Meditate –Your Living Breath
- Gently focus your attention on your breath. It’s cool coming in through your nostrils. It’s warm going out through your lips.
- Allow your breath to slow down, to become smooth and even –without force or effort.
As your breath calms and slows, you may notice relaxation come.
Now, let’s add another element. Your mind likes being busy, right? It really wants something to do. Just feeling your breath coming and going isn’t really enough to occupy your multi tasking mind. So let’s give it a job.
Start counting your breaths from one to nine as you observe the coolness and warmth of your breath coming and going. When you reach nine, begin again at one. If you lose count, begin again at one. If you discover yourself on seventeen, or twenty-two, start again at one.
All the time that you’re observing your posture, breath and counting, be observing your thoughts, waiting for that small gap between thoughts. It’ll sneak up on you and appear when you’ve forgotten all about it.
I know that this seems like an awful lot to master. But think about what you’re doing while you’re driving your car.
- You’re steering. (I hope you are anyway)
- You’re stepping on the gas and changing to the brake when needed
- You’re watching in front of the car
- You’re watching your mirrors for what’s behind you
- You’re talking to your girl friends
- You’re drinking your Starbucks
And you’re probably thinking about something entirely different while doing all of the above on auto pilot.
That’s the way meditation becomes. After a little practice, you’re sitting effortlessly, breathing calmly, counting without a miss, observing your thoughts, and suddenly, the gap appears.
Sri Ramans –Feel the Love
The place where most people get stuck in the beginning of learning how to meditate is that they’re totally identified with, and defined by, their thoughts and emotions. Having never experienced anything inside themselves beyond thoughts and emotions, they think that they are those thoughts and emotions.
I hate to tell you that you’re not the beautiful (handsome) sex symbol that modern advertising has conned you into thinking that you’re supposed to be. That image (or any image you have of yourself) is just a collection of thoughts powered by emotions.
A story. A story made up of inner thoughts.
Are you really those thoughts?
Ramana Maharshi, one of India’s greatest twentieth century Gurus, advised seekers to question what they are in an unfolding process of self examination.
Ask yourself an unending stream of questions beginning with “Am I my thoughts?”
Continue asking yourself, “Am I my emotions?” “Am I my leg?” “Am I…?”
The answer is always the same until you arrive at the inescapable conclusion.
No. I’m not going to spoil your fun. Figure out the answer to Ramana’s question, “What am I?” all by yourself.
Next week, we’ll try doing the world’s simplest meditation. It’s a whole lot easier than Vipassana. Or Ramana’s question.