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Lions Roar : May 2017
Meditation as a Cure-All We are complex beings with a wide bandwidth of identity, and different skillful means apply to differing aspects of ourselves. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to human development. Meditation is extraordinarily beneficial, but it is not a panacea. Even the Buddha, the master meditator, understood this. In his teaching on the eightfold path—right view, intention, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration— meditation is just part of the picture. If you want to get somewhere, distribute your efforts evenly over all eight factors. With that kind of broad-spectrum approach, no obstacle stands a chance. ANDREW HOLECEK is the author of The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy. One of the most frequently asked questions about meditation is, “What do I do about my thoughts?” How to work with your thoughts is one of the biggest challenges in meditation—and in life. We hear a lot about meditation practice as something that opens us to a place of deep stillness and inner quiet. But your own experience might come closer to rocking back and forth between thinking, worrying that you shouldn’t be thinking, and struggling to get to some place where your thinking just drops away. As an old teacher of mine once put it, “Unless you’re brain dead, you’re going to have thoughts.” Since you come to the cushion with the mind you have, thoughts, feelings, and per- ceptions will likely be present in your meditation. It is your relationship to them, and your awareness of their place in your meditation, that will shift as you deepen our practice. You can let go of the idea of engaging in battle with your thoughts. You don’t need to force anything. If you refrain from trying to stop your thinking process, you allow it to stop by itself. When a thought comes into your mind, whatever it might be, let it come into your mind. It is just a thought. Then release it. You don’t have to follow it or pursue it. Your mind will begin to calm down. Remember that nothing comes from outside of the mind. The mind includes everything; this is the true understanding of the mind. As spectators watching ourselves, we constantly check to see whether or not we’re doing well. We want feedback on our prog- ress. We might ask ourselves every few moments: “Am I doing all right? Am I meditating correctly? Am I getting somewhere?” Part of us seeks reassurance that we’re on the right track and that the time and effort we’re investing is making a difference. We compare ourselves to an idea/ideal we hold in our imagination. But that constant comparison keeps us from simply being in the moment. What happens if we drop the role of spectator? Perhaps we worry that if we let go of our thinking, watching, judging over- seer, then we won’t know if we are advancing in our practice. It’s true—we won’t—and that’s a good thing. While you are following the breath, drop the notion of “I am breathing.” Focus on the inhale, and count “One,” then focus on the exhale, and count “Two.” Let go, again and again, and be pres- ent to whatever is real in that moment. Noth- ing more. Absolutely no thinking required. SENSEI JULES SHUZEN HARRIS is a Soto priest and founder of Soji Zen Center in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Should I Try to Stop Thinking? Good luck with that. What you can do, says JULES SHUZEN HARRIS, is change your relationship with your thoughts. Strong Emotions Strong emotions often bubble up or burst into meditation. This is when we need to remember that, as Chögyam Trungpa Rin- poche put it, “Meditation isn’t a sedative. It’s a laxative.” When the mind relaxes and opens, crap comes up. The good, the bad, and the ugly all emerge. The remedy is to let them come in but not linger too long. Don’t indulge or repress them. Be a good host, who welcomes the energetic guests, gives them the space they need, then lets them go. Acute Psychological Issues Meditation may not be recommended for those struggling with acute psychological challenges or trauma. It may not be help- ful, and in some cases can actually make things worse. Please consult with a health care professional if you are considering meditation instead of, or in conjunction with, medication or treatment. PHOTOBYBOBCARMICHAEL LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 61