In life, there’s always something. You’re bullshit because the weather sucks. There’s that troubling financial situation looming over your head. You have an annoying and untrustworthy colleague. As someone with an intimate relationship to anxiety, I can assure you that you can always find something to worry about if you’re so inclined.
And you can think to yourself, “Everything will be better after this passes.” After it rains or gets cooler. After you become independently wealthy. After your annoying colleague mysteriously disappears. And perhaps it will be better, but then something else will come along.
There’s always something, but we have the choice between being someone who is controlled by the things that happen to them, or being someone who understands that things just happen. The key to finding yourself in the latter category seems to be learning to ride the thought stream.
How to meditate
There are lots of different models out there that lay out the ideal relationship between you and your thoughts. Most of them center on what to do while you’re meditating, as you might think of meditating as like physical therapy. You get injured, you go the physical therapist and they show you some exercises. But the point is that the exercises will make your everyday movement easier. You practice the exercises at physical therapy in order to make it easier to climb the stairs or walk around. Meditation is like that. You do some exercises in order to make it easier to allow things to happen to you.
Sometimes this involves a mantra. Sometimes you concentrate on your breathing. Sometimes you try to get to ten (this is my least favorite kind of practice). In a yoga class I attended this summer, one of our instructors suggested you imagine yourself floating down to the bottom of the ocean. At the bottom, you watch from below as your thoughts float above, caught up in their own little thought stream. You watch them. You observe them. You let them go.
Letting go of a thought
Doesn’t that sound easy? To let go of a thought? When we draw thoughts, after all, they are clouds. They float above us. How easy does that imply it should be to just let go? Disconnect the little dots between your head and the thought and watch it float away? If we were honest about our connection to some of our thoughts, though, they’d be drawn more like a ball and chain. Or something velcro. Or perhaps they’d be like our favorite stuffed animal from childhood, which though it is old and smelly and perhaps riddled with disease, we continue to cling to for dear life.
I find the letting go of thoughts to be easiest after some yoga, lying on my mat in savasana, or corpse pose. I imagine myself floating down, more to the bottom of a swimming pool than an ocean, because I don’t know if you really want to be on the bottom of the ocean. And then I look up and watch my thoughts go by.
The mind is a wonderful thing, but it is stubborn. It is built of many familiar paths, and generally, letting go of your thoughts is not one of them. Letting go of your thoughts feels distinctly physical, an act of effort and will. Sometimes I vaguely expect sweat to break out on my forehead.
Sometimes I imagine the that the thoughts are floating by. Sometimes I imagine that I reach down into the water and disturb their images, like a reflection in a pond, before they have time to take hold. Sometimes I imagine them like bubbles, and I can almost hear the sound of them gently popping around me.
Laying there on the floor, working fairly hard at letting go of my thoughts, it feels like a lot. It’s hard. And what’s the point? There are a few moments every now and then when it seems to become easier, though I’m not always sure if that’s not because I’m just falling asleep.
And I guess all I can really say is this: things are easier on the days when I lie on the floor and pop the bubbles of my thoughts than they are on the days when I don’t. On the days when I lie on the floor, I can see that things will always be happening. I can see that most of the things that are “happening,” are not, in fact, happening to me right now, in the present. On those days, I can let go of thoughts even when I’m not lying on the floor, simply turning away from them while I’m washing the dishes or walking around town. I can say to myself, “I’m not going to think about that.”
On those days, I know that the world will never be perfect. Or perhaps I know that it already is.