Gathering a Scattered Mind
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Once you get the hang of acknowledging thoughts
and placing our minds on the breath, you’re
likely to meet the full-blown fantasy.
a fantasy's spell, we don't even remember
that we're meditating.
is a very large thought that has the power to take
us far, far away from the present
moment. It's like a story that we tell ourselves,
a movie that we run, a soap opera that draws us
in and puts us in a trance. Because it's potent
and absorbing, we'd sometimes rather believe a
fantasy than reality.
When you begin to meditate, you may consider yourself
well-trained if you're just able to see that you're
fantasizing, even if you're caught up for most
of a meditation session! Sooner or later you will
see how fantasy has the power to take over your
mind, keeping you from the present moment, stealing
your ability to focus.
After your next meditation session,
ask yourself, "How much of the
time was I actually here? How many
countries and how many people did
Use the technique of holding your
mind to the breath to help steady
yourself enough to deal with the
Working with a fantasy is like working
with any other thought. As soon as
you notice this kind of distraction
taking place, acknowledge it as "thinking" and
kiss it good-bye.
recognize a fantasy and release yourself from
it is how you build up
some kind of strength. Then you have to say good-bye
to that very potent thought that might hold all
we've cooked up, or all the sexual energy, or all
the insecurity. So acknowledge it and try to return
to the breath.
Why “try to?” Fantasies can take us
so far away—having a romantic vacation in
Tahiti, fighting with our mother in another state—that
we aren't even aware of our body, not to mention
the breath. Suddenly dropping a very big thought
for the immediacy of the-breath can be too harsh
and cause you to hold the mind too tightly. When
control is too tight, the mind will bolt at the
Coming back in stages and gradually
re-engaging the breath is one of
the most effective ways to work
with fantasies. Bring yourself
back to the room you're sitting
in, try remaining present in the
room and let the environment ground
you until you feel yourself in
your body. Then reconnect with
the breathing. If small thoughts
come up, you might actually appreciate
them! "Before, I was thinking
about being at the North Pole.
Now I'm wondering what's for dinner.
That's an improvement." And
it is: at least you're here.
Fantasies feed on hope and fear, creating worry.
Worrying and anxiety lead to stress, and stress
causes suffering and clouds our perception of what
is happening in the present moment.
Beyond fantasies you encounter strong emotions.
Emotions are hard to deal with — even in
our most tranquil, open-minded state! So when you
encounter them in meditation, first slow down,
breathe, and stabilize your mind.
Then, depending on your ability to stick with
the technique, you can take one of two approaches.
Let it go
If you've developed your practice
to the point where you can just breathe
and let a strong emotion go, do this.
Relying on our stable mind, you can
let the power of your meditation bring
you back to the breath and the emotion
begins to lose its grip.
An emotion that feels as big as a house can be dismantled brick by brick by
contemplating it. No matter how solid it feels, an emotion — like everything
in the world — is fabricated, made of parts. The most painful, powerful
aspect of negative emotions is that they seem complete and whole. A thought
builds into a crescendo called emotion, which we then embody. The tight ball
of hatred, desire, or jealousy feels so solid that we actually feel it in
our body as a lump in our throat, a rising wave of heat, an aching heart.
When we're caught up in negativity, it's hard to imagine penetrating it,
cracking its shell.
Think of a time recently
when an emotion possessed you totally.
Did you act out? Or did you let it
What are the sources
of the emotions that arise when you’re
meditating? With reason you can identify
the source of an emotion: what somebody
said to you, an expectation that
led to disappointment, perhaps not
a person but an object—a chair
or a car or a piece of clothing.
To dismantle an emotion, you make the emotion
the object of your meditation. Emotion isn't premeditated
or logical in any way; it’s a response to
something or somebody. So you dismantle an emotion
by engaging the missing element, reason, and investigating
the feeling. "Why am I jealous What has made
me feel this way?" For a moment rest your
mind on these questions instead of the breath.
Contemplating the emotion, you begin to see that
the person or object that triggered the emotion
is not the reason for what we feel. We're the reason.
The emotion is a creation of our mind. We've turned
a thought into a seemingly solid entity and held
on to it.
In every emotional
situation, there's a subject, an
object, and an action. Here's an
Riding in a car in
India is a frustrating
experience. The roads
are barely wide enough
for one car, and they're
very bumpy. When you're
stuck behind a slow
truck that's spewing
it seems they all do—there's
every reason to want
to pass, but it's rarely
possible. You become
obsessed with the road,
the truck, and your
desire, and after a
while all you can think
about is how angry
you are. When you finally
pass, you see that
the truck driver is
just a poor man trying
to eke out a living.
Your anger lightens
In this situation,
the subject is "me," the
object is the truck,
and the action is being
stuck behind it. The
pain of the situation
is also the object.
You're angry at the
truck for being where
it is, and at yourself
for being where you
are. You're also angry
at being stuck in traffic,
and you're angry at
being angry. These
are the components
of this emotion.
Reflect on a recent experience of
anger. Examine the experience from
this perspective. Does your anger
lighten? Can you identify the components
of your anger?
when we can meditate is honest meditation.
Sometimes neither letting go nor dismantling works.
If you find you're too traumatized to use intelligence
or to recognize and release, that contemplating
the emotion only inflames it further, you need
to calm down and relax. Involve yourself in a soothing
activity: go for a take a shower, read a book,
talk to a friend, watch movie. When you're calmer,
you can come back to the cushion.