Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thought Camping

If you have ever done any meditation, or even just read about it, then you are familiar with the concept of letting your thoughts drift in and out like clouds. In mindfulness meditation, we are taught to focus our attention on our breath and let the thoughts go by without effort – without trying to resist them or hang on to them.

My mind spends a lot of time engaged with its thoughts, in dialogue with endless chatter. “Lost in thought” is an apt description. We all do that. Maybe we are driving along a familiar route and all of a sudden we bring our attention back and wonder where we are. Or we lie in bed at night mulling over things and realize that it is now way past our bedtime and the time for sleep is short.

I just read about “leave no trace” camping. As you might guess, the point is to enter and leave the campsite without leaving any evidence that you have been there. This is like mindfulness meditation. Leave no trace thinking. Let the thoughts enter and leave the mind without any evidence that they have been there.

I do not spend much time in what anyone would call traditional meditation, mindful or otherwise. But I have been trying to move through my day in a more mindful way. Like the Biblical encouragement to “pray without ceasing,” I try to rest my attention continuously in the present. Does that mean I never think? Of course not. I have to think as I’m writing right now, for example. But my thinking is directed and purposeful. It is mindful thinking (in theory at least).

And do I in fact rest my attention continuously in the present? No. My record is probably something slightly longer than a nanosecond. But I persevere. We can train our minds the way we train a puppy, with gentle repetition. And a trained mind, like a trained puppy, is a joy. Pema Chodron tells of getting a delightful card that read, “Sit! Stay! Heal!” That cracks me up.

How many repetitions does it take? Apparently with my mind, an infinite number. But with each repetition, I am reconnected to this moment. And in this moment I find God.

No matter where or how far you wander, the light is only a split second, a half-breath away. –Tibetan Book of the Dead

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