February 14, 2006

Meditation As Subway Ride

When I’m meditating, my thoughts are going 17,000 miles per hour, just like they are all the rest of the time. I’ve long since abandoned any hope of stopping their flow or even slowing it appreciably. So what am I to do about them while I’m trying to gain serenity?

I’m watching my breath, easing down to a physiologically slower level – deep, even expansions and contractions of the diaphragm -- but there go those thoughts, completely ignoring my efforts: voom, voom, thinking about the kids, the blog, the state of the world, the state of literature, my posture, my next therapist’s appointment, the tai chi stance I’ve been practicing, the snack I plan to make after meditating – voom, voom, and daydreams mix in and then I have to analyze the daydreams…

Then a useful simile comes to me: the deep slow breathing, the settling of my sitting body to focus on a point below my navel – these things are like standing on the platform of a local subway stop, waiting for the train. And the vooming thoughts are the train going by in the other direction. I hear and see them, but they have no connection with what I’m doing now. I’m not getting on them and I‘m not going to stop them or interfere with them in any way. My head is going that way on that other track, but my breath, my diaphragm, my center, are waiting quietly here.

And the spiritual insights – like this one – they’re the express train speeding by on the center track. It whizzes through and its wind ruffles my hair and its noise distracts me and I look up and glimpse the people zipping by in the lighted windows, but I’m not on that train, even though it’s going to the same place I’m going. Maybe I’ll catch up to some of those passengers when they change trains, but right now I’m just waiting for the local. Deep and slow, and sit up straight. And I’ll get to see the signs and people at the stations where the express train doesn’t stop.

UPDATE -- OR ACTUALLY PS: The very first post I ever wrote on this blog, "The Allegory of Sitting," deals with this issue.