This is a short selection from my upcoming book, Thoughts are not the Enemy, which will published by Shambhala Publications in the northern hemisphere Fall of 2014.
Sitting down to meditate and having a slew of thoughts rush into your head, and then doing nothing about it, when you know you can settle your mind a bit first, may seem crazy and unreasonable. What is the advantage of letting thoughts and emotions build and consume you at the beginning of a meditation sitting? Why not first calm your mind down with a practice of following the breath, using a mantra, reciting some phrases, or any means by which you can get settled?
Over the years I have met several people who have had difficulty with Recollective Awareness meditation precisely because of this point. Often, they do not stick it out to see where sitting with all this chaotic inner conflict and intensity could lead. The reasoning goes, “If I can get myself into a calm and equanimous state of mind at the beginning of a meditation sitting, then I could observe my thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. And, along with being a calm observing witness to my experience, I would also find that the thoughts and emotions vanish and leave me with a clear mind to be aware of the breath or body sensations.” And some people take this even further, adding, “This experience of stillness and detachment in the observing consciousness is the way I would like to be all of the time.”
You can see that it would futile for me to try to convince someone with this kind of experience that it would be in his best interest to meet the chaos in his mind instead of following the routine of intentionally calming his mind. Even as I write this, I know it is a hard sell.
So let me approach this divergent view around practice in terms of values. The higher value of a clear and equanimous observing consciousness dominates a good deal of meditation practice. It may even be taught as the goal of meditation. Whenever such a luminous consciousness arises, it is excellent. It has the status of an optimal state of consciousness.
But here is where we could be a bit more discerning. It may not be the optimal state of consciousness to explore your thoughts and emotions, simply because it wants to have nothing to do with them. It is a state of mind that is often incapable of actually being interested in thoughts and emotions. Besides that, it can rarely, if ever, know an emotion at its actual intensity, because it mutes and diminishes such emotions, and the same goes for thoughts, which seldom last when you are in an optimal equanimous state of mind. If we just take this optimal state of mind for what it is, for however long it lasts, and look at it as we would any other state of mind, we may find what it is actually good for, what it actually does, and then we can make a more accurate assessment of its value. But people rarely ever do that kind of investigation, because such states of mind are often considered sacred, privileged, special.
Having done that type of investigation on numerous occasions, and having read and listened to the meditation reports of others who have done the same, calm and equanimous states of mind may actually be good for developing samadhi rather than insight. That is, it may make much more sense to let such optimal states move toward becoming more inward, more removed, quieter and stiller, and not burden them with the task of observing thoughts and emotions. Let such states produce their own state-dependent objects of awareness, such as colors, images, scenes, sounds, perceptions of space, etc.
What I am suggesting is that you let yourself go into them and let them carry you away. There is no need to use them to scrutinize your experience; that is for a different kind of calm state of mind, one that is more practically developed out of a practice of staying with the chaotic inner conflict and intensity that you may find when you sit with thoughts and emotions as they naturally reveal themselves to your awareness.
The shift in values I am recommending here is to value your capacity to be with and tolerate your thoughts and emotions in meditation over your capacity to detach from them. So if someone has a tendency to quickly detach from feelings and enter into a calm state of mind at the beginning of his sittings, a corrective instruction would be in order. But you may doubt this instruction, struggle with it, or just not bother with it. It will go against the grain of your practice, and will contradict the higher value of calmness, equanimity, and peace you have had for meditation. What I simply suggest is that when you sit down to meditate, let whatever you were thinking about or feeling before the sitting directly into the meditation. Do not do any preparatory or opening practice in the sitting – even taking refuge or doing a short invocation or chant can interfere with your attempt to start a sitting with your mind as it was before the sitting.
In this way, the boundary between what your mind is like before a meditation sitting and what it is like in a meditation sitting gets dissolved. What most people don’t like about this approach is that your mind in meditation then becomes more like your mind outside of meditation, which for experienced meditators may seem like going backward.
• to find out more about recollective awareness meditation go to www.skillfulmeditation.org