Thought is intangible. It cannot be measured, calculated, or predicted. We can measure brain waves and impulses, but those things are just the byproduct of thought, not the thought itself.
Even so, thought has been scientifically proven to have direct effects on physical and emotional well-being. People with positive attitudes heal more quickly after surgery and end up with better results.
As I continue my study of Buddhism I am learning that this mind-body connection was a concept long before we had delved into the inner workings of the human body. Perhaps our reliance on modern medicine has made us more apt to trust a pill than our own thoughts, but with the recent resurgence of eastern practices in the west (yoga, meditation, homeopathy), we as a society are rediscovering this connection.
The Buddhists attribute thought to a cause of human suffering. In fact, it is one of the most potent causes, and also the only cause that we can control. There was nothing significant about the Buddha’s actions when he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, but through the practice of meditation he was able to control his thoughts, which finally brought about the enlightenment he had been seeking.
As discussed in an earlier post, the Four Noble Truths serve as the foundation of Buddhism. These truths ultimately lead to the cessation of suffering, or more accurately stated, the enlightenment of the mind which lessens the effect of suffering.
Meditation is the tool through which enlightenment is attained. I think a lot of people, especially Christians, are afraid of meditation. It conjures up images of Hindu gods and tribal shamans sitting on a mountaintop practicing voodoo. The true definition of meditation, according to dictionary.com is “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation.” Notice there is no mention of Hindu gods or shamans.
The Bible if full of admonitions to meditate as a means of gaining spiritual maturity and peace, as well as insight into the will and ways of God. Meditation simply means to think deeply about something. To the Buddhists, it is a way of learning to control our thoughts, not by hindering them, but by understanding them.
When I first tried to meditate many years ago I was convinced I was a failure. For some reason I thought the goal was to sit there and not think. But how does one not think? And then, as I got more involved in yoga I discovered that the concept is to focus thought in order to gain spiritual discipline. This is one reason yoga is such an effective vehicle for meditation. In order to hold a difficult pose, you cannot let your mind wander. It requires complete concentration of thought, gaze and breath. I was meditating for years without even realizing it!
Like most things, the only way to gain discipline through meditation is to fail.
I learned fairly quickly that if started thinking about the credit card bill I had to pay while practicing yoga, I’d fall right out of tree pose. When we first learned to walk, we fell. When we first learned to ride a bike, we wobbled. When we first learned to read, we mispronounced words. But in all this, we learned the nature of ourselves, our bodies and the way that words work in the English language, and all the nuances and subtleties involved.
Buddhist meditation does not teach absence of thought, nor does it encourage perfection. The act of the mind wandering during meditation clues us into the condition of our hearts. When we are in a quiet place, with all outside distractions subdued, the mind is free to express itself clearly. We should not restrict thought, but spend time getting comfortable with our thoughts, in order to understand the state of our emotions.
From there it is possible to focus on a single word, idea or image, and the impressions (thoughts or images) that stem from that concentration is what leads to wisdom, and then to enlightenment (or spiritual maturity).
Buddhists also assert that this is a way for us to discern between harmful and beneficial thought. For example, if my ex-boyfriend’s name keeps popping up as I’m meditating I should not strive to direct my thought elsewhere, but allow myself to focus on that name in order to determine whether it is harmful or beneficial. Are the memories joyful or painful? If painful, why? What about that relationship is still causing me pain?
Through that I can begin to gain insight into how to heal from that pain. If the memories are joyful, I should revel in them, not out of nostalgia or longing – because these are actually negative feelings that bring about a sense of loss – but to remember something positive in my past in order to invite it into my life again.
I am going to begin a 21-day meditation journey, starting tomorrow. My goal is to become spiritually refreshed. I have so much going on right now. I am self-publishing my book and taking on the roles of copyeditor, cover designer, marketing rep, video producer, web designer, and the list goes on…and all this is in addition to a full time day job and being a single mother.
My thoughts tend to run away with me, so I’m going to devote myself to meditation in order to gain some spiritual understanding and insight. I’m certain a few ex-boyfriend’s names will pop up, and my hypochondria is sure to run rampant. I admit I’m frightened of that. I’m also high strung and not exactly the type to sit chill for an hour with my eyes closed. And I guarantee I’ll keep thinking of all the productive things I could be doing instead.
But like anything, it’s all about practice and letting go of the need to be perfect. And sometimes the most productive thing we can do has nothing to do with the tangible.
I’ll be sure to report on my journey. If anyone else is undertaking a similar challenge, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you!