Meditation: It’s not what you think. Really.
Ok, so that gem of a headline isn’t original. I’ve seen it several places, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Or relevant, especially if you find yourself facing some difficult thoughts or feelings that come up when you practice meditation. You may not have realized it when you embarked on this voyage of mindfulness, but there is a great deal of courage that may be needed from time to time on this sometimes meandering path. Scary feelings, provocative images and haunting thoughts sometimes make their way into our consciousness when we pause and practice presence. What do you do when these these specters emerge? I recommend doing what I did once on the golf course at Disney World in Florida. Confused? I’m not surprised because so was I, for awhile.
So I’m not used to the humidity and heat that Florida offers up in June, so I was actually pleasantly surprised when I learned that I could get a tee time at noon on a desirable Disney course. My pleasure turned to dismay when I realized I had a tee time at noon on a course that felt remarkably like a greener, moister version of hell itself.
But I was determined and set off down the fairway to get the most out of my experience (and money). I was doing well until I, as I am wont to do on many a golfing occasion, hit my ball off into the surrounding woods. After hiking a fair, sweaty distance, I found my ball in a clearing and turned to make my way back into the open. It was then that I first heard it.
A rustling in the bushes that I could only imagine was an alligator (the only Florida animal that immediately slithered to mind). I quickened my pace to match my escalating heartbeat and began to allow my mind to run with me. A puma perhaps? A ravenous javelina? A man-eating manatee? Who knew? Not me! And I was quite certain that the mysterious beast was continuing to pursue me.
I finally burst through the last of the underbrush and the relative safety (?) of open fairway, a sweaty, out of breath and terrified mess. It was only at that moment that I actually took the opportunity to swivel and confront the predator I was sure had nearly nipped at the heels of my golf shoes, while it crashed through the shrubbery. The greenery rustled a bit and then the beast made itself visible to me.
Never had one small fuzzy bunny rabbit made such a violent impression on a human being (except perhaps the one that appears in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Yes, it was indeed the most harmless little fuzzball you could imagine that inspired a racing heart, wheezing breath and quick mental episode of “Steve Hickman, This Is Your Life!”
So when your scary thought arises, it may not be a loveable bunny rabbit, but you’ll never know what it is unless you look, and even if it purports to be scary, important, true, or imperative, remember that it’s still just a thought or feeling. A mere brain secretion, as I like to refer to them. Don’t believe what your brain tells you about its contents. As the comedian Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think that the brain was the most important organ in the body, until I realized which organ was telling me that.”
It often takes a great deal of courage to choose to stay present with a difficult feeling or troubling thought, but that courage is rewarded mightily in the form of ease and equanimity over time. It just takes intention, practice and a little playful curiosity.