When I had almost finished drafting the sequence of posts I planned to start publishing today, I realised that it was missing the true significance of what I was writing about. I thought I could finish re-writing it in time, but it needs far more thought so I’m having to delay it by weeks rather than days. In order to focus on the re-write, I’m having to re-publish posts that relate to it either directly or indirectly. This first sequence is about my struggles with practising mindfulness: this is the seventh and final post.
The post on interconnectedness included a declaration of intent – I was going to seek a deeper understanding of the concept both by reading and by the practice of mindfulness, amongst other things. I began my first practice some months ago and have posted the occasional progress update on this blog.
Given my recent ruminations on the power of tears, a watery subject if ever there was one, it seems timely to bring everyone up-to-date with my most recent insight into the meditative process. It is not one that will light up your sky but I think it is intriguinig.
One night recently I had a dream which could move my understanding forwards significantly. This was how I noted it in my Dream Diary – and yes, I really am keeping a dream diary again. It started after I began my mindfulness meditation but I’m not as systematic as I was in the old days. Any dreams – and I have loads of them still – about losing my bag on the way to a meeting, spilling luggage from my suitcase all over the pavement as I head for the airport or walking to the podium and suddenly realising I’ve lost my notes, don’t get recorded.
I am discussing my mindfulness practice with a group of people. I am trying to describe my problem with simply being aware of being aware. The image leaps to mind. It’s like I’m on a deck chair with the sea behind me. As a wave sweeps past me I am already carried away by it before I know it’s coming and that’s how my thoughts affect me too.
Been searching for a way to capture my experience. This is almost perfect. I need to learn how to let the waves of thought and feeling wash over me. The image is stunningly close to my experience. As I think about this issue I feel moved almost to tears. I’d probably say it’s more like sitting up to my chest in the sea facing land. When a tall wave of thought washes over me I am immersed until it passes and I have not yet learnt how to remain conscious in the mindful sense when the water of thought is above my ears. Now at least I know exactly what the challenge is experientially: maybe I can meditate more effectively as a result.
A few days later, I was in Ross-on-Wye. We’d just been for a walk by the river and had climbed the steps up to the high street. My wife popped into a shop at the top and I said I’d be in the book shop further down, so no hurry. I walked the few extra yards to Rossiters.
I browsed for a while until I discovered a whole series of books on mindfulness from the Leaping Hare Press. They covered all sorts of topics: Einstein & the Art of Mindful Cycling, Mindfulness at Work, Happiness and How it Happens, Mindfulness for Black Dogs and Blue Days , Mindfulness and the Natural World, and Seeking Silence in a Noisy World. What an excruciatingly delicious dilemma! They were all beautifully designed and printed. With the exception of cycling and work I could’ve bought the lot. Eventually, after much dithering I settled on Mindfulness & the Natural World, a very good choice as it turned out.
Every book on meditation and mindfulness I have bought so far talks about some variation of the mind as sky or a train line and thoughts as clouds or trains. These metaphors have been worse than useless for me as my earlier descriptions testify (see link above). This book is the very first which holds a description I can really relate to. Claire Thompson writes (page 40-41):
An image I find helpful to illustrate the practice of mindfulness of our thoughts and feelings is to imagine swimming in an ocean. The waves are your thoughts and emotions and they will take you where they please. Now imagine you are on a surfboard, riding the waves and enjoying the ride as waves come and go. You can even watch the waves go by.
Mindfulness is your surfboard. Your thoughts and emotions are all transitory. If we notice this, they no longer need to dictate our behaviour. . . . . Of course, riding a surfboard takes a lot of practice, and so does mindfulness. We all fall off the surfboard occasionally. But that’s fine. We can just hop right back on.
This was quite an uncanny correspondence, given how closely in time I found the book after I had had the dream.
Whether all this recent watery imagery of tears and waves is anything to do with my being a Pisces, I doubt. I think, if anything, it relates to my highly kinaesthetic take on the world of imagination and memory. Why there are so few books on meditation with so little awarenesss of this dimension of processing when it comes to thoughts, I’m not sure.
There is, of course, the endemic emphasis on following the breath and body scanning, which is fine, but these are seen as ways of anchoring the mind so it does not get carried away by currents of thought. When it comes to descriptions of disengaging from our thoughts and feelings, they’re stuck on how you simply ‘watch’ your thoughts as, like ‘clouds,’ they float across the ‘sky’ of your mind.
‘Get real!’ I’ve growled to myself a thousand times.
Well, at last I’ve found a description that works for me.
‘Really!’ I hear you mutter. ‘That is weird.’