I started meditating many years ago. I meditated primarily as a way to help me deal with stress and insomnia, both of which are related.
My meditation wasn’t a routine practice and I did it only when I felt I needed to. As a result, I didn’t progress beyond a basic level. That level typically involved focussing on my breath until a degree of relaxation set in. Nothing more.
I recall one evening several years ago. I focussed on my breath as usual, but something more happened. The typical stream of random thoughts slowed to a trickle and became almost non-existent. I then remember feeling a profound sense of peace and calmness like I had never felt before. That was the only time I would experience that for a long time.
Several years later, I joined Oakville Zen. With a more routine and disciplined practice I was sometimes able to reach that place I had been before. That profound sense of peace and calmness. Or serenity as it is called. But as I progressed down the path to that place more often, I noticed something else happening. I became more mindful of that stream of random thoughts and gained some insight about it.
From being mindful I discovered that a large number of the thoughts that aimlessly pop into my mind involve attachments. By attachments I mean thoughts about the past, the future, situations that don’t exist, thoughts about the way we think people or things should be, thoughts about material objects and other things we have or want to have, and so on. I’m not talking those parts of the day when we have thoughts for a purpose, such as making a decision, solving a problem or learning something. I’m talking about that stream of thoughts that clouds our minds most of the other parts of the day. That random chatter or “monkey mind” as it is called. That chatter that distracts us from the here and now, the reality of things as they are and that original serene state of being.
The more I became aware of my thoughts about attachments, the more I also began to understand the burdens that accompany them. By burdens I mean the forms of suffering that often come with such thoughts, such as stress, anxiety, fear, grief, anger, regret and so on. Even positive emotions and feelings about attachments have their associated burdens, albeit more indirectly, as they often ignore of the reality of impermanence. That is, everything that gives us happiness today changes, irrespective of what we want or desire. Clinging on to, or trying to control, a present source of happiness often leads to disappointment tomorrow.
I started meditating years ago to deal with stress, but I ended up with something else. I ended up discovering something about the path to serenity. It involves being mindful of my thoughts, recognizing and accepting them for what they are without judgment, and letting them go. The attachments and burdens of the ego are let go in the process. In letting go, that profound sense of peace and calmness flows.