I have been practicing meditation, more or less regularly, for 20 years. Starting in my early 30’s with the intense boot camp of Goenka-style ten day Vipassana retreats (mind moving systematically over the body and feeling sensation for 10 hours a day — I about flipped out), to some Zen sitting, to having my own morning practice where I attempt to count ten breaths without losing track.
This morning, I noticed, as I have noticed before, that my mind loves to move. It’s really no different than how my body loves to move. The better shape I’m in, the more my body loves and craves movement. So it is with my mind. I have an athletic mind. It is so happy when it is creating and thinking and MOVING.
A couple of years ago, I discovered that I could just move my mind, without thinking thoughts. It is sort of like imagining a figure-eight track in my head and my attention goes around and around that swoopy track. I have a mental sensation of movement which feels satisfying, without the formation of thought. This morning I just started ‘swinging’ my mind, back and forth in my head. I have no thoughts, just this movement, and it feels good . . . much like rocking sometimes feels good when you’re sick.
They say that meditation practice teaches one how to still the mind. I’ve had this experience, so I know what it feels like in my head. One Sunday I attended a weekly teaching by Genpo Roshi at the Zen Center here in Salt Lake City. He took us through his Big Mind process, which I was familiar with. First we ‘became’ or put ourselves in the mindframe of the one who was striving, moving, creating, desiring. We felt what that felt like. Then, we ‘became’ the one who knows that all is as it should be. Nothing needs to be done. We felt what that felt like. Then he asked us to transcend and include both mindframes. It was a weird experience. But I walked out of that Zen Center that Sunday morning with an absolutely clear and still mind. There was NO CHATTER in my head. It was extraordinary. I would not have any idea that kind of inner stillness was even possible, had I not experienced it.
Meditation is also about disciplining the mind. I remember the second 10-day Vipassana retreat I did, over Christmas one year, around the time of my Big Mind experience. I fought with my mind to force it to move slowly from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, aware of every inch of my skin, noticing whatever sensation occurred. My mind was NOT happy about being forced into this regimine, hour after hour, day after day. I truly felt I was wrestling with an angel, a divine contest of wills. At some point however, something cracked and it became easier. Soon, I found pleasure in the feeling of my mind moving over my body, discovering what sensation was actually there, being free and open to what was, without independent outside thoughts cropping up. And then, when prompted, I discovered I could use my mind to slice through my body and sense the actual denseness of my bones in the middle of my arm — the power and precision of my mind actually frightened me! When I drove across the desert from Joshua Tree, back to Utah after that retreat, I felt elated. My mind was huge and powerful and clear. I felt as big and open as the Nevada sky, and utterly free from small, ego-reinforcing thoughts.
Both of those experiences faded, but their memory did change my mind. I know that kind of mastery is possible. It really is no different from athletic training. One summer I spent just over two weeks in Greece as part of a trireme rowing crew. We would practice twice a day; in the mornings and evenings when it was cool. I got really tan and really strong. I loved how I felt in my own body. Extrapolating out, when I watch 5.14 climbers move silently and gracefully up a rock face that appears to have nothing to hold onto, I imagine what it would feel like to live in a body that has such power and capacity. Just to walk around every day in that kind of body would feel amazing.
If I spent the time training my mind that athletes spend training their bodies, I would have the capacity to move my mind powerfully, or to still it (rather, to shift attention to the stillness that is always there behind thought). I know it is possible because I have been there. Visited there.
For now, in my own small way, I sit in the morning and do what I make time for. I take pleasure in the movement of my mind, moving without thought, then seeing if I might slow that movement, gradually . . . my mind is a good servant, if not the most disciplined. Today I let it move, for the sake of just movement. It’s all good.