Just as we heal the body and the heart through awareness, so can we heal the mind. Just as we learn about the nature and rhythm of sensations and feelings, so can we learn about the nature of thoughts. As we notice our thoughts in meditation, we discover that they are not in our control- we swim in an uninvited constant stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets. The mind begins to show how it contains all possibilities, often in conflict with on another- the beautiful qualities of a saint and the dark forces of a dictator and murderer. Out of these, the mind plans and imagines, creating endless struggles and scenarios for changing the world.
Yet the very root of these movements of mind is dissatisfaction. We seem to want both endless excitement and perfect peace. Instead of being served by our thinking, we are driven by it in many unconscious and unexamined ways. While thoughts can be enormously useful and creative, most often they dominate our experience with ideas of likes versus dislikes, higher versus lower, self versus other. They tell stories about our successes and failures, plan our security, habitually remind us of who and what we think we are.
The dualistic nature of thought is a root of our suffering. Whenever we think of ourselves as separate, fear and attachment arise and we grow constricted, defensive, ambitious, and territorial. To protect the separate self, we push certain thing away, while to bolster it we hold on to other things and identify with them.
A psychiatrist from the Stanford University School of Medicine discovered these truths when he attended his first ten-day intensive retreat. While he had studied psychoanalysis and been in therapy, he had never actually encountered his own mind in the nonstop fashion of fifteen hours a day of sitting and walking meditation. He later wrote an article on this experience in which he described how a professor of psychiatry felt sitting and watching himself go crazy. The nonstop flood of thought astounded him, as did the wild variety of stories it told. Especially repetitious were thoughts of self-aggrandizement, of becoming a great teacher or famous writer or even world savior. He knew enough to look at the source of these thoughts, and he discovered they were all rooted in fear: during the retreat he was feeling insecure about himself and what he knew. These grand thoughts were the mind’s compensation so he would not have to feel the fear of not knowing. Over the many years since, this professor has become a very skillful meditator, but he first had to make peace with the busy and fearful patterns of an untrained mind. He has also learned, since that time, not to take his own thoughts too seriously… Jack Kornfield
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