Follow by Email

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The bartender of your mind*

I've been working lately with the Buddha's Third Foundation of Mindfulness -- aka Minfulness of Mind/Thoughts/Mind States or Consciousness of Consciousness, all ways I've seen the term citta translated.

The first foundation is mindfulness of body. Know that you are in your physical form and how that feels.

The second foundation is feeling tones. We find what's going on pleasant or unpleasant, or we're neutral.

The third is, traditionally, mind states -- what are the lenses that color your view? The Buddha identified lust, hatred, contraction, ignorance, and other states that affect how we perceive things. The idea is not (in this teaching) to judge particular ones as good or bad or to cultivate certain states; it's just to know that they're there.

The way to figure out the mind state that is coloring your view is to look at the thoughts.

Here are the first three foundations in action: You smell a hamburger cooking. The smell is merely an odor picked up your senses. You react -- it smells good/it smells revolting/eh. The thoughts coming rushing in: Mmmmm, hamburger. I'm hungry. Seared flesh! The horror! What's going on up there? (Pleasant/unpleasant/neutral)

The sensation sparks the feeling tone which sparks the thought which leads to action. In the worldly, untrained mind.

But if you are trained to be aware of thoughts rather than pulled around by them, you realize that you can choose how to act. And you can avoid the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion -- along with the ramifications of eating everything whose aroma crosses your path or walking around feeling cranky about flesh-eaters foisting their smells on the world.

Try this:
After doing some shamatha meditation, invite in the thoughts. Let your awareness be like a bartender* and your thoughts like the customers. You welcome the thoughts in, make small talk, take their orders, serve them, and move on to the next thought customer.

You take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts. They belong in the bar of your mind, as much as your awareness does. You notice things about them -- do they come in a large chatty group? Are they combative? Gossipy? Is there one sitting off by the side, repeatedly trying to get your attention? What's that about?

You don't get overly involved with any one of them because you have a constant stream of thought customers coming in. You note which ones are regulars (habitual patterns), and which are newcomers.

You're aware of them, engaged with them, but you are not them. And from this you learn that you are not your thoughts. They don't define you.

Oh, and thoughts leave good tips -- though they tend to subtle and informational. They won't buy you a drink.

*If making your mind a bartender raises resistance, try a clerk at an ice cream shop, bakery, juice bar, lunch counter, or anywhere that one being is waiting on others.