The Pull of the Past

Meditation can be defined as the absence of contemplation.  As we practice meditation, we move our attention from the ever-busy thinking mind, to the most neutral position possible. This experience of neutral mind or pure awareness is experience without the inner explanation or narration.

It is important to understand why we should be interested in getting a handle on our inner dialogue. It is estimated that every day we think about 60-70,000 thoughts. Of those 60-70,000 thoughts, approximately 90% are the same thoughts as yesterday. Because we have been practicing thinking these thoughts day after day for years now, they are automatic or unconscious.

The problem with this as you may have guessed is that if we continue to allow these thoughts to run the show, we are then living and thinking in reaction to the past. We become programmed to think and perceive through the lens of past experience. Unconsciously we create a comfort zone in which we defend against anything that reminds us of past trauma and cling to anything that we recognize as desirable. This can have its benefits obviously, but the trouble is that often we become so ‘comfortable’ here, we stop evolving and reaching for new experiences. We find comfort in the familiar even when its less than optimal. This is how habits form.

If we don’t have a practice of ‘intercepting’ automatic thinking, we are likely to become stuck in certain holding patterns dictated by our recollections of the past. When we use a meditation or mindfulness practice to extricate ourselves from the thinking mind altogether, its like building a muscle – the muscle of awareness. In other words, we become conscious of our unconscious thoughts, and begin to break the bonds of the habitual mental processes that inform our perceptions, emotions, moods, and behaviours. As one of my teachers puts it: ‘we begin to break the habit of being ourselves’.

From here, the concept of meditation is simple to grasp—in place of these unconscious mental processes, we sit quietly and consciously attend internally to a chosen focal point as a means of strengthening our ability to choose where the attention goes. The focal point becomes the magnet used to lour the attention out of the mental process as we train the mind to switch off. Whatever we give our attention to, we give our energy to that thing. So, as we pull the energy out of automatic thought, we become more skillful at arriving in the present moment where our potential is not limited by past experience.

The key to meditation is repetition. With the understanding that the attention will wander off constantly on various tangents of the mind, we take on the work of bringing ourselves back over and over and over and over… aiming to make this presence or pure awareness, our default setting. From here, we have enough tone in our muscle of awareness to shift out of our holding patterns.

In todays meditation we will attend to space. As you close your eyes, imagine the space behind your eyes as a starless night sky. Your task in this meditation is to attend to the space by returning your attention here each time you catch your mind wandering. With each return to the space, you develop the ‘meditative musculature’ to intercept the busyness of the mind.

I recommend using this one daily for 5 minutes before the day gets going or any time you are able. You can even use this like a reset at your desk by simply closing your eyes for one minute and attending to the space. The more often you do it, the more potent it becomes!