Being able to learn how to meditate is wonderful, but we’re learning how to meditate in a culture of individualism, getting teachings that came out of a collectivist culture, and there are problems with that that I am seeing again and again over the years and becoming more clear about recently.
It’s an endless process but I can give some examples. Ani Pema started teaching on the notion of, and the term that Trungpa Rinpoche would use was a little bit harsh for my taste, but he was a provocateur, was idiot compassion. This term that means we do something to feel good about ourselves, we call it compassion but really we’re trying to feel good by making someone else feel good.
Ani Pema was very wise to correlate that more with codependency, which is the modern psychological term of needing to try to control some outer circumstance to feel like we’re safe or we’re okay. The funny thing about life, as meditators, and the reason I asked if everyone has meditators, we all know we don’t think most of our thoughts! Can you imagine on CNN: “Breaking News: We Don’t Think Most Of Our Thoughts.”
There have been studies that show we think between 60,000-90,000 thoughts a day, and I know that number has gone up because there were studies 10-20 years ago showing 50,000-60,000 and now it’s up around 90,000, I would imagine because we’re over stimulated with information and screens, more than we’ve even been in the history of human evolution.
Nonetheless, I would argue at least 90% of our thoughts we don’t think. What do I mean by that? I mean when you’re sitting there in meditation and a thought pops up, did you think it? Well, you could say “My system thought it.” Sure, fine. But did you intentionally and consciously decide “I think I will now birth a thought about something that happened two days ago. Wait. Here.” It is so not like that!
So that is just something that we can be aware of as meditators, it is actually quite fortunate, quite powerful that we know this if we are to be kind to ourselves. But what I find is that even though we may know this from time to time in the moment we often react to our thoughts as if we did think them on purpose. So when we think something bad, something mean, something we wouldn’t want to say out loud, something we’re not proud of, out of the flotsam and jetsam of our unconsciousness, something pops up and suddenly we go “Uh oh!”
What really makes me sad about loving kindness or maitri is that it is the opposite of this inner critic, that doesn’t make me sad, but what makes me sad is that the inner critic is actually often people mistaking these unconscious thoughts that they didn’t even think and saying “I’m a bad person for thinking that.” That is just double unfair! In the first place, you didn’t even do it on purpose, and in the second place, you’re taking credit for it?! And then you get mad at yourself! Wow! This is double trouble!
It can be confusing. There is some level of “Wait a second, if I’m not thinking all of my thoughts, what is going on?” There is a psychologist, a Buddhist psychologist, Marc Epstein, who wrote a book, and I just love the title, I haven’t read the book, but it’s probably pretty good, “Thoughts Without a Thinker.” What a wonderful title! It just gives you that flash of Buddhist magic where you’re like “Oh. What is it like to have this spacious mind? This mind that is spacious and has a lot of clarity and doesn’t fixate as much?” That is this more open heart and mind.
This blog post is part of an ongoing series. Stay tuned for Part 4!