Let Your Thoughts Go
“No sooner does a man know the reason of a thing than immediately he tires of it and goes casting about for something new.” —Meister Eckhart
A major lesson of meditation is the lesson of impermanence. Something about the process of reflection allows people to recognize the fleeting nature of, well, everything. In Zen, there’s a saying— let your thoughts come and go, but don’t serve them tea. When you sit in reflection for a dedicated period each day, patterns of thoughts begin to emerge. You recognize that these thoughts come and stay a while. They may even try to overstay. But eventually they all leave. Over time, this self-honesty cultivates an inner-strength and peace of mind. Good thoughts or bad, none of them are here to stay. Your sense of self and perception is always in a state of flux.
You only really build recognition of this when you see it happen yourself. Occasionally I’ll be meditating and a really pressing thought will come into my head. If it’s extremely important, I’ll take pause and write it down. David Lynch said many of his best creative ideas come to him during meditation. He compares it to going deep into the sea to find the biggest fish. But most of the time I will sit through the thought. Most of the thoughts, by virtue of averages, are unimportant clutter. If I find myself indulging in them or giving them attention, I will withdraw and let them shrink into the ether. Meditation teaches you the art of neutral observation.
This symbolically carries over into other parts of life, and this is where the popular benefits of meditation come from. When you learn not to indulge in your thoughts, you learn not to indulge in other things. The voice in your head slowly morphs from an ego voice into a neutral higher spiritual voice. For me, this voice has become a sort of God, because it’s the voice of nature. It represents a heightened awareness that my carnal human self is not so quick to adapt to without practice. It reminds me not to drink too much or start smoking again. It reminds me to tell my girlfriend I love her and to treat my family with respect. It helps me live a virtuous life. From the greatest spiritual questions to the smallest daily trivialities (which are important, after all), the cultivated voice guides you through life. Meditation refines the voice and gives it wisdom.
This is most important in the realm of patience and attachment. When the brain trains itself not to take its thoughts too seriously, not to dive into the depths of pessimism or get lost in the delusion of optimism, you find a certain type of objectivity. Instead of latching on to material thirsts and overambitious goals, the meditative mind tells you to simply focus on what you have to do today. Over long periods of time, this lets you accomplish great things. As Lao Tzu said, “The world is won by those who let it go.”
When you find yourself feeling hateful or angry, the meditative mind starts an internal dialog. It says, “What’s the point? Your hate or anger may be rooted in reality, but getting upset about things that are outside of your control doesn’t do anyone any good.” This is supremely useful. It also cultivates growth on a deeper spiritual level. Instead of taking your thoughts at face value, you always approach the ego mind with a degree of heightened caution.
Lastly, the meditative mind knows to be contented with what it has. That doesn’t mean that it becomes lazy or static, but that it simply knows how to express gratitude. When you slow down and really think about who you are and what your life is, you will find plenty to be grateful for. You may have problems, but there’s always a balance. There are always experiences to cherish— time with loved ones, time in nature, quiet moments of contemplation. Even our sufferings can be beautiful if we recognize them as learning opportunities. The meditative mind has the patience to let the dust clear and recognize the inherent duality of everything. Finally, it knows that the truth is found beyond that duality.