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October 24th, 2020
This episode is dedicated to the person who operates the Twitter handle @IndigoCorrine, who spurred this line of thinking.
Meditation is often defined popularly and regarded -erroneously- as a practice in the absence of thought. As with most popular understandings, this is a popular misunderstanding. Certainly, with a consistent and long practice, moments without thought might arise, but this is not necessarily the ‘goal’, if meditation is to in fact even have a goal. Instead of goals, it’s perhaps better to think of such things in terms of the effects of meditation.
One effect is most certainly a change in the experience of thought. For a person with no experience in this area, that might sound like a curious if even paradoxical notion. Many people, if not most who’ve never spent a good deal of time with formal meditation practice have never even considered the idea that each of us has a relationship with our thoughts. The very notion offers up some simple questions:
Is it a good relationship?
What does it mean to have a… bad relationship with one’s own thoughts?
From a perspective evolved in conjunction with several years of mindfulness practice, it seems fairly safe and valid to note that a great many people have an awful relationship with their own thoughts and don’t even realize it’s the case or that this relationship can change.
Far from being a total clearance of thought, meditation in the mindfulness tradition often functions as an observation of our relationship with thought.
Contemplate for a moment the odd recursive nature of this situation: can thought observe itself? If we become aware of the fact that we are having a thought, is that then a thought about a thought?
This simple recursion, if repeated enough times consciously in formal practice eventually leads to some interesting effects. The awareness of a thought slows it down, like a sobering moment when the grip of intoxication lessens and a heightened awareness of the situation comes online. The effect this has on the thought is often one of deflation. Thoughts we have can often be far from our best interest, and simply noticing that this or that thought is presently occurring can have the effect of de-powering that thought - as though popping it, letting it dissolve in the wide space of the mind.
The nature of this reflective process is a bit like a ouroboros - the depiction of a snake eating it’s own tail. Mindfulness meditation, in some sense is a practice in the ability to direct focus and awareness in a way that allows thought to eat itself, like a snake swallowing more and more of it’s tail until poof! it simply ceases to exist.
This ability to interrupt, stagnate and then dissolve thought gives the mind a kind of editing function, which - over time - becomes the primary tool to empower a person to change their relationship with their own thoughts.
The composition, cadence and subject matter of the thoughts produced by the mind changes with enough of this simple editing, and with enough time, the mind can become a space of peace filled with a deep sense of what it means to be a living, thinking being in the world.
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