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Beginners Mind

Beginners Mind

Like so many of you, I have a regular meditation practice.

It's morphed over the years. I spent far too many years (from age 18 to 50ish) sitting zazen. Basically it was time spent sitting on a cushion cross-legged, thinking incessantly and still looking at the world through a dualistic lens (everything inside me, and everything outside me). This lasted for far too long, and I kept doggedly going at it.

Until the epiphany, which went something like: meditation isn't really something you do: it's something you stop doing.

In chunks of five to ten minutes, I practice breaking my identification with thought, and getting swept away by thoughts. It's amazing how quickly thoughts will arise, vacuum us into their vortex, and link to some past event or future event. How to notice this tendency in real time?

Typically it helps to focus on the sounds around us. When you really listen, you can pick up all sorts of sounds -- traffic, some machine humming somewhere, voices, your own breath, wind ... even in very quiet places you can pick up more subtle sounds. Listening to sounds is an excellent way to snap into the present. So the practice helps to cease the endless bus ride of arising thought, which always comes unbidden.

Focusing on breath is another way to snap into the present. Each inhale is different, and each exhale is different, if you really take the time to notice them.

And when a thought invariably arises, it's possible to look at that thought as you would a new sound coming in. It just materializes out of nothing and nowhere. And then it vanishes in the same way.

The trick is to notice thoughts just as you notice new sounds; they arise, they do a little twirl like a model down a catwalk (in James Low's memorable metaphor), then they turn and go away. All on their own.

By simply noticing them, you're not pushing them away nor are you drawn to whatever story is arising. They're just .... there. And then they're gone.

And there's a spectrum of pleasantness/unpleasantness about them too; some are wonderful, some are terrifying. You just let them be as they are without trying to influence them from some "me HQ" place.

So the practice is really a cessation of something rather than a doing of something. You cease to be distracted by thoughts. When you notice a thought --and mind you this applies off the cushion (the real practice) as well as time on the cushion -- you simply start again, bringing it back to the breath, or sounds, after noticing a thought. This is the practice.

You grant your full attention to being open to whatever arises, in real time. A never-ending series of beginning again.

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