The running commentary- Reflections from a meditation retreat
I have just finished a week-long meditation retreat at Samye Ling with Drupon Rinpoche. In some ways it was quite hard work with four hours of teaching and 6 hours of practice per day. We began at 5.30am and ended at 8.30pm each day. So my right upper leg had a lot of aching to tolerate, between posture shifts! Strangely, my left leg and back were pretty fine, still my right leg more than made up for that. But despite that I found it very beneficial and mostly enjoyed myself.
One of the things I miss most about not attending regular teachings with Rob Nairn is a teacher who can point out and discuss the subtle operations of the thought/thinking process. Rob’s teachings about this often gave rise to insights about the operation of my own mind and a consequent reduction of the control of these subtle operations over my day to day experience. I find that when Drupon Rinpoche teaches on the subject of meditation, there is the same ability to clarify these subtle operations.
One of the teachings he gave this week was like this. He talked about the situation when you are present with the mindfulness support, then become distracted, and then come back to the mindfulness support. On coming back to the mindfulness support there is often a thought about how long the period of distraction was. However, with mind distracted, there is no way we can know how long it was distracted for! So this little voice telling me how long I was distracted for is bogus!
It reminded me of what I have learned in my reading of neuroscience and psychology for the upcoming book ‘From Mindfulness to Insight’ (Release Date: April 2019). My understanding is that the activity of the mind, eg. making decisions, deciding what to do, etc. is mostly unconscious and involuntary – ie. it happens by itself and we are not aware of the decision-making process. Then there is a part of the mind that following the decision, communicates a rationale for what has been decided and reveals this into consciousness. Many of us notice this in our meditation practice as a kind of a running commentary on what ‘I’ am doing.
It also reminded me of a challenge I have been experiencing in my meditation practice, an annoying process of conceptualising what is happening in my practice. A little voice that is say, “oh this is what’s happening now” or speculating “oh it could be this that is happening?” This process of conceptualising is blocking the flow of my experience, building a wall in it’s way (and more effectively than Donald Trump!). So what I have been doing in my daily practice is cultivating an attitude of ‘I don’t know’ and of ‘I don’t need to know’ and so reminding myself of this in my practice when I notice the conceptualising. I realise that this is just more conceptualising, but feel it is a step in the right direction towards not conceptualising.
Anyway, after this teaching I was able to watch this conceptualising voice in my mind – it seemed to be coming from the bottom left direction – and when I recognised it for what it was, it would subside for a while.
I recognised that it is a voice of deception, overlying my direct experience of what is really happening. In the example above of the amount of time we are distracted for, the deception is obvious in hindsight. But there is always a subtle deception going on with this voice, which is the deception of an ever unfolding conceptual story about ‘me’. About what ‘I’ am doing and this perpetuates the illusion of a solid ‘me’, separate from everything else. A me that is real and important and that suffers when it gets what it doesn’t want or wants what it doesn’t get. When we believe and buy into these subtle messages they control us, we are not free and we are more likely to suffer.
Freedom and the choice to suffer less, to refrain from buying into these stories, is possible only if we are able to see and recognise these stories for what they are. This takes practice, which is why attending a meditation retreat is so valuable. The meditation retreat experience allows the mind to settle more than usual and for us to begin to see some of these previously unseen voices.
We have a Mindfulness Association Membership meditation retreat planned at Samye Ling for next February, at just £200 (plus travel and accommodation) for a 5 day retreat. Keep an eye out for more details in the coming weeks!
If you are interested in exploring this inner voice further, then join me for our membership’s monthly teaching next Thursday October 25th at 7pm.
Not a member? No worries, sign up here.