I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful bank holiday weekend. We have had glorious weather here again in my part of Scotland and I am sitting in my garden being serenaded by birds.
As part of the first UK Kagyu Monlam, I am still going to teachings at Samye Ling with Drupon Rinpoche each morning and evening and the drives over in the early morning and in the evening have been full of spacious beautiful skies and lush green trees full of new sparkly green leaves. Can you tell I have been enjoying myself?
I had an interesting insight about how I relate to my thoughts.
As we teach in the Seeing Deeply insight course, thoughts arise in the mind of their own accord (self-arise) and if we are able to leave them alone, they display by themselves all we need to know about them (self-display) and then vanish of their own accord (self-liberate). However, what usually happens is that we engage the thought and get caught up in a train of thought – that is we become distracted by thinking, which is how most of us spend the vast majority of our lives, busily thinking about all sorts of things, while out of touch with our present moment experience.
This wouldn’t be so bad if we were caught up in happy thoughts, but we only need to see the expressions of the people we walk past in the street to recognise that many of us are not thinking happy thoughts. We get caught in ruminating and worrying about problems, angry about the things we don’t like and desiring things to be different from how they are. Or we distract ourself or self- medicate ourself in the process of denial.
A wonderful thing this human condition!
In the Seeing Deeply Mindfulness Insight training, we also explore the destructive emotions of anger and desire, which cause a lot of our suffering. So I have been taught and have myself taught on many occasions about our compulsive tendency to engage thoughts and about the role of destructive emotions- and while we do teach that we cling onto the thoughts we like and avoid the thoughts we don’t like, I hadn’t made the connection with the emotions of anger and desire.
My insight is that when I like a thought I engage it due to my desire. Applying this teaching to myself, I have been noticing that I like engaging the thoughts that arise about who I am and how I am, about what I do and how I am going to do it and why – these thoughts reinforce my view of myself and I desire to engage them because they are reassuring to my egocentric self – they preserve the status quo and keep the facade of a solid and separate me with a personality I have carefully chosen to project to the world in tact – a personality that I believe will be regarded well by others. It’s fascinating to discover that this is a manifestation of desire. I previously thought that the desire was just a result of engaging with thoughts- now I can also see it as a driving force for engaging with thoughts.
Over the week the teachings have also challenged my view of myself as a good Buddhist working to benefit others and this has brought up thoughts that I don’t like. I now see that I have engaged these thoughts due to the force of anger or aversion. Then I get caught up in defensive trains of thought that can fuel this anger. I catch myself and then engage again in a train of thought that justifies my view of myself as a good Buddhist – again not wanting to rock my egocentric view of me, myself and I. So I have come to see anger as a driving force to engage my thoughts rather than just a result of such engagement.
I am delighted by this insight and intrigued about how it will play out in my meditation practice going forward.
Working with the mind is a subtle business – I find there is always something more to learn about the habits of my mind – and I have been vastly fortunate to have Rob Nairn as my teacher for many years and to have the delight of assisting him on many courses. He had an excellent and subtle knowledge of the habitual workings of the mind. Here is a short video to demonstrate this:
There are also talks by Rob as part of our free online course ( and on our website and many more are available to our members via our membership.
I wish you beneficial practice this week and wonder if you will join me in observing the thoughts that arise in the mind and become curious about the compulsive drive to engage them.
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I found this very honest and revealing, and I can relate to much of what you’re saying – although at times it feels like I’m getting sucked into an Escher painting when I try and think about it too much!
The whole idea of cause/effect and the emotional response or trigger – as in, which is which? – is quite hard to grasp with certainty.
I’m going to mull this over and have fun with it, I’m sure. Thank you!