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Meditation: It’s not what you think. Really.

September 3, 2012

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lucy Tauber Brysk permalink
    September 3, 2012 6:57 pm

    always enjoy these blogs. while trying to share with my nieces-who are a doctor & a therapist–I inadvertently referred to it as: UCSD Center for Mindfulmess. (was it Freud who said there are no mistakes??) shows you where my brain is these days. 🙂

    lucy tauber brysk

  2. Anne Kohut permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:05 pm

    What a perfect example in your golfing incident -Thank you for sharing it! Great quote from Phillips, too.

  3. September 14, 2012 11:17 am

    Great story, great advice. It’s fascinating what a tool mere attention is. Along with intention of course. But we humans rarely realize just how powerful mere attention is. We usually squander it on the endless jibber jabber residue from media, conversations and our own neurotic self-flaggelation or narcissistic mental preening and worrying. But that bare attention is a universal creative force indeed. We don’t really even know just how powerful we are.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. June 4, 2013 11:22 pm

    very nice article, Thanks for sharing!

  5. May 5, 2014 8:34 am

    Meditation is not what you think really. this actually depends on the state of being while I am meditating, or the reason behin my meditation. Many people like to meditate only after a severe problem, or they can not master a delima or some thing like that, then Meditation wil only help for just few hours or some days, then again the same thing will happen again. but if you meditate regularly and for a lng time, then you will get better results and you are going to see things clearer and fine.

    • May 5, 2014 8:37 am

      Good points Saleh. I would also encourage anyone who says that meditation “works” or “helps” to really look closely at what they actually mean by those terms. Often it is a subtle way of saying that for a short period the person was able to bypass the arising of experience, distract away or relax, which is really not the intention of meditation practice at all. When you find yourself saying the meditation “worked” then you might want to consider what you mean by that. Sometimes it means that it led you to have an experience like the one you really wanted, which of course is just a denial of reality, which rarely goes the way we think it should!

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