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Tales of a Meditation Whisperer

October 22, 2012

My dad was a wizard of understatement. He did a number of things in his life but I suspect that the work he found most rewarding was teaching art to troubled high school kids in what was referred to as a “Continuation School.” My recollections of him are suffused with emotion-laden aromas of turpentine and oil paint from his downstairs studio. A couple oil paintings and a watercolor self-portrait are my most concrete memories of this man whom I lost before my eyes at the age of 13 (he was 39). But what has always touched me most was his quiet, his gentle manner and his way without words.

My mom remembers this better than I, but he would have innumerable students come to him proudly with their latest works of inspiration and creativity, literally bursting with pride and hungry for positive feedback in lives that were often lacking in much of that. They would thrust a painting or piece of jewelry into his line of sight and say “Well? What do you think?”

I can picture my dad, stroking his multi-colored scruffy beard and contemplating carefully and thoughtfully. The moment lingered and the tension grew. One can almost picture the excited student nearly levitating off the floor in anticipation of something encouraging from is or her beloved art teacher.

“Hmmm,” he would utter enigmatically. “Ahhhhh,” he would say confidently.

And the student would bounce off to gush to her friends about Mr. Hickman’s encouraging feedback. Often he would become verbose in these situations and utter an “interesting” every now and then to make sure that people knew he was cogitating and considering what was put before him.

These moments of observing things as they were and expressing keen interest without judgment are moments of inspiration to me in my meditation practice. I find that when I am seeking my own validation or evaluation of my performance, I am just on a slippery slope to ruminative and unproductive commentary and ridiculous supposition about random topics.

But I find that if I can observe the arising of activity in the mind and simply say “Hmmmmm” or even “Yes!”, I can simply continue to observe and find myself less entangled in the discursive process of what is referred to by neuroscientists as the “default mode network” of the wandering mind.

The so-called Horse Whisperer or Dog Whisperer have gained fame from their ability to approach a willful beast and cooperatively coax a behavior that the animal really wants to engage in anyway. The task in meditation may be to see this pesky brain as a willful beast, and work with it like this. Observe it. Show your genuine interest in what it is doing. And whisper in its ear “mmmm hmmm” while staying present. No disengagement or dismissive attitude here. Just pure allowing and accepting of whatever it is dishing up in the moment.

Try this and let me know what happens for you. For me, I feel encouraged and supported in my practice. And I still haven’t gotten any feedback on whether I’m doing it well!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Deborah permalink
    October 22, 2012 9:28 pm

    Steve, thank you for taking the time to share this memory and lesson from your father. As I am grappling with willfully beasts, I am now encouraged to sit in meditation again. I’ll keep you posted about my ahhhs and hmmms.

  2. October 23, 2012 9:10 am

    I suspect you are!

  3. October 23, 2012 9:11 am

    Good point Ed 🙂

  4. November 20, 2012 7:09 am

    Thanks Steve. I finally got to this website and the timing in impeccable. I’m excited to have what feels like a support system for my meditation practice.

    • November 20, 2012 7:15 am

      Glad you found it and I hope it continues to be helpful. Comments like this help keep me motivated to keep on posting!

  5. January 9, 2016 3:53 am

    Thanks for sharing your blog about your father and mother. Yes it like a good thing we are practicing meditation. It always keeps us fit and fine and healthy at every stage of life.

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