A Meditation on Observing Thoughts, Non-Judgmentally

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A Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts

  • 20:22
  1. Take a few moments to settle into feeling the body as a whole, sitting and breathing, or lying down and breathing, riding the waves of the breath moment by moment, resting in awareness. An awareness that features the entirety of the body scape and the breath scape as they express themselves, moment by moment. Life unfolding here and now in the body, in awareness.
  2. And when you’re ready, if you care to, letting go of the breath and the body as a whole. Allowing them to recede into the background or rest in the wings, as we’ve been saying, still very much present but less featured while we invite the whole domain of thoughts and feelings and mood states to be center stage in the field of awareness.
  3. For a time attending to the stream of thought rather than being carried away by the content or emotional charge of individual thoughts, instead resting comfortably on the bank of the thoughts, river or the thought stream itself, allowing individual thoughts if and when they arise to be seen, felt, recognized and known, as thoughts as events in the field of awareness.
  4. Recognizing them as mental events, occurrences, secretions of the thinking mind, independent of their content and their emotional charge, even as that content and emotional charge are also seen and known.
  5. Seeing any and all of these fleeting thoughts as bubbles, eddies and currents within the stream, rather than as facts or as the truth of things, whatever the content, whatever the emotional charge, whatever their urgency or their tendency to reappear, whether they are pleasant or seductive, unpleasant or repulsive. Or neutral and therefore harder to detect at all.
  6. Expanding the metaphor, seeing any and all of these evanescent thought events more like clouds in the sky or bubbles coming off the bottom of a pot of boiling water. Or like writing on water, arising in a moment, lingering for the briefest of instances, and dissolving back into the formlessness from whence they came. Relating to their content as if it were of equal importance and relevance to say what you had for dinner three nights ago. Even if a thought is particularly compelling and insightful. Especially if it is particularly compelling and insightful.
  7. For now, just letting any and all thoughts come and go. Just let sounds come and go. Or sensations come and go. Not preferring some to others, nor pursuing some over others, not pursuing anything. Just resting in an awareness of thinking itself and the spaces between thoughts. Moment by moment, breath by breath, as we sit here or as we lie here.
  8. It might be helpful to be especially sensitive to the steady stream of commentary and advice you may be giving yourself as you sit here, and recognising it as such. As scaffolding. As running commentary, taking a position in relationship to it that resembles turning down the sound on a television set, so that you’re just watching the game and aren’t being sucked into the endless stream of commentary and interpretation and opinion that is so characteristic of televised sports events.
  9. Rather, you now detect the individual secretions of commentary on your moment to moment experience merely is more thinking as thoughts,, as judgments and rest in the recognizing of them in the economists attending to each event as it arises in the stream without being pulled into the past or into the future or into opinions or fears or desires, simply seeing them and knowing them as thoughts and as emotions as mental events, not as the truth and not as you watching them proliferate endlessly as they do watching the mind secrete them and throw them off.
  10. Watching how easily thoughts manufacture or fabricate views, opinions, ideas, beliefs, plans, memories, stories, and how easily they proliferate. If we feed them the one thought morphing into the next, then into the next, until we suddenly realize that we’ve been carried downstream and are no longer aware of the stream itself. The process of thinking and how in the noticing we are already back in the frame of attending to thinking, is thinking to thoughts, thoughts observing them, recognizing them, perhaps being carried away again.
  11. And if so over and over again coming back to this moment to this frame in this moment to the field of thought itself beyond all the content of the endless thinking and proliferating and fabricating and the emotions that accompany them springing from whether they are pleasant unpleasant or neutral and from what’s going on in your life in this moment.
  12. Allowing all of this to be held to bear attention in awareness moment on breath by breath as we sit here or live here resting in the awareness itself south taking up residence in awareness itself in the knowing of thoughts thoughts and feelings as feelings in the accepting of thoughts thoughts and feelings feelings whatever their content whatever their emotional charge just as an experiment in cultivating greater intimacy with your own interiority with what’s on your mind and in your heart. And with new dimensions of the possible.
  13. If we learn to observe carefully and rather than identifying with the content of thoughts and feelings to see them more impersonally as weather patterns as ripples and waves on the surface of the vast and deep ocean of the mind. As we inhabit the whole of the mind that boundless essence of mine that already knows before I thought underneath thought beyond thought that is bigger than thought. Bigger than any feeling however powerful that is capable of making use of thought and emotion without being caught and imprisoned by unwise and unexamined habit patterns developed over a lifetime of ignoring these aspects of the mindscape of the landscape of our own being of our lives unfolding.
  14. So for the remainder of our time together, until you hear the sound of the bells resting in an awareness of the arising and passing away of thoughts and feelings in the mindscape some overwhelmingly obvious, some quite subtle, some masquerading as commentary, others as scaffolding, others as neither, and simply returning over and over again to the frame, whenever the mind is carried off, not looking for thoughts or emotions or mood indicators, just resting in awareness and letting the mall come to you.
  15. Letting them arise on their own in the field of awareness to whatever degree they do. Moment by moment by moment, and breath by breath, as you sit here or as you live your life.

How to Accept What We Really Don’t Want to Accept

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Right now there’s something going on in my life that’s very difficult, something that I definitely don’t want as part of my life. I don’t want this to be my reality and yet it’s clear that all of my wishing it weren’t so has done nothing to make it not true. As is always the case: Fight with reality, reality wins.

And so it occurred to me (brilliantly) that this might be an auspicious time to practice acceptance, right now when I hate this particular reality.  And also, that it might be a good time to better understand what it means when we say (usually too nonchalantly) just accept what is, be with it, don’t fight it and all the other expressions we have for this very challenging and mysterious process.

When investigating an idea or practice, I like to start with what the thing is not. In this case, what are the myths and misconceptions about acceptance that get in the way of our being able to do it?

Myth #1: We’re okay with what’s happening. We can agree with it.

The biggest misunderstanding about acceptance is that it means that we’re okay with the thing we’re accepting, that we’ve somehow gotten comfortable and on board with this situation we don’t want.

Reality: Acceptance does not require that we’re okay with what we’re accepting.  It does not imply that we now want what we don’t want.  It does not include feeling good or peaceful about what we’re accepting.  It does not mean we now agree with it.

Myth #2: Acceptance means we stop trying to change it.

We believe that accepting what is is synonymous with agreeing to be passive, giving up on change, surrendering all efforts to make things different.  Acceptance is saying we agree that this situation will go on forever.  It’s deciding to pull the covers over our head.

Reality: Acceptance does not mean suspending efforts to change what is.  It does not imply that we’re giving up on reality becoming different.  Acceptance is all about now and has nothing to do with the future.  Furthermore, acceptance is not an act of passivity, but rather an act of wisdom, of agreeing to start our efforts from where we actually are and considering what actually is.

Myth #3: Acceptance is failure.

In our culture, acceptance is for the meek, for losers. It’s what we do when we’ve failed at doing everything else. We see acceptance as a choice-less choice, a disempowering and depressing end to a battle lost.

Reality: Acceptance is not an act of failure. It can, with the right understanding, be experienced as an act of courage. It is for those who have the strength to face the truth and stop denying it.  It can be, in fact, a first step in a process of genuine success and movement.

So if not the myths, then what is this thing we call acceptance?  What does it really mean to accept what is or stop fighting with reality?  And, is it ever really possible (I mean really possible) to accept what is when we so don’t want what is?

To begin with, I want to throw out the word acceptance because it carries so much misunderstanding with it. Rather than asking can I accept this? I prefer, Can I relax with this? Or, can I be with this as it is? Or, can I agree that this is the way it is right now? These pointers feel more workable given what we associate with acceptance. Because the fact is, something inside us will never fully accept or get okay with what we don’t want, and that part of us needs to be included in this process too.

To relax with what is means that we also relax with the part of ourselves that’s screaming “no” to the situation. It means that we make space for the not wanting in us.  So we accept the situation and also the fierce rejection of it at the same time.  We don’t ask ourselves to get rid of the resistance; that resistance is our friend.  It’s there to protect us from what we don’t want.  So we accept and allow the negative situation and also, the hating of it.

Secondly, acceptance is about acknowledging that this particular situation is indeed happening.  It’s not saying that we like it, agree with it or will stop trying to change it, it simply means that we’re accepting that it’s actually what’s so. The primary element of acceptance is opening to reality as it is, not how we feel about it, just that it actually is this way.

In my case, with the situation I have going on, I’m practicing relaxing with the reality that I don’t have an answer to this difficult situation.  I am accepting that this situation is what is and I hate it and I want it to be different and I don’t know right now how to make that happen.  All of that is true; the practice of acceptance right now is about letting all that be so, whatever is true, and still being able to breathe deeply.

What’s comical is that our refusal to accept what is involves a fight against what already is. What we’re fighting against is already here. We refuse to allow what’s already been allowed.  Seen in this light, our refusal to accept reality has a kind of insanity to it.

When we practice acceptance, we’re just saying one thing: yes, this is happening. That’s it.  And paradoxically, that yes then frees us up to start changing the situation or changing ourselves in relation to it. As a good friend said, the situation will change or you will change, but change will happen. We waste so much energy fighting with the fact that this situation is actually happening that we don’t apply our most useful energy and intention to what we want or can do about it.  We’re stuck in an argument with the universe or whomever, that this is not supposed to be happening, all of which is energy down the drain. The fact is, it is this way, and acceptance allows us at least to begin doing whatever we need to do from where we are.

Acceptance is a profound and powerful step in our growth and development. It requires the immense courage to be honest about where we are. And it requires the fierce willingness to actually feel what’s true, which can be excruciating, but is far more useful than avoiding such feelings by denying what we already know or arguing that the truth shouldn’t be the truth.  Relaxing with what is puts an end to the futile and draining argument that is this is not the way it’s supposed to be and gets on with the business of living life on life’s terms.

When we accept what is, which includes our guttural “no” to it, we give ourselves permission to join our life, to experience the present moment as it is. We allow ourselves to stop fighting with reality, which is exhausting and useless. It’s counterintuitive and yet supremely wise; when we’re willing to say yes to this thing we don’t want, yes, this is the way it is whether I want it or not, something primal in us deeply relaxes. We can exhale; the hoax we’ve been conducting is up at last. The funny thing is, we’ve always known what’s true and it’s only us we’ve been trying to trick in our non-acceptance. To accept what is offers us permission to finally be authentic with ourselves, to fully be in our own company. When we can say I accept that this is the way it is — even if I hate it and don’t know what to do about it — then we can at least be in the truth, which ultimately, is the most empowering, brave, and self-loving place from which to create our life.