How to Handle Thoughts?
Instinctive Meditation is a life-affirming approach to meditation, designed for people who live in the world and have jobs, friends, a love life, families, dreams and desires. For such people, the purpose of meditation is to enhance life, and they know that meditation is working because they are functioning better – in love, work, play and in rest.
Instinctive Meditation is designed to strengthen your instincts and intuition, so that you are in more intimate contact with your internal guidance system, your inner wisdom. Therefore, in instinctive meditation, the best practice is usually to welcome all your thoughts with open arms, welcome them as impulses arising from your instinctive intelligence. Let your brain do its work of sorting and prioritizing during meditation, and your mind will be much clearer after meditation. And if there are really a lot of thoughts, then get better at organizing your to-do lists: take a load off your meditation time by already having gone through your to-dos and already dones and items yet to be put on the list.
By contrast, some meditation traditions were designed for very different kinds of people – those with no jobs, who have renounced their families, sworn off sex, and gone to live in a monastery. Meditation for monks is intentionally anti-life, designed to cripple the instincts and suppress innovation. Traditions are called traditions because they treat creativity and individuality like a disease. Most meditation teachers throughout the ages have been monks from Asia, and it is very difficult for them to sense what non-monks need. The meditation traditions tend to be authoritarian, and seek to destroy your inner sense of authority and replace with with total submission to an external authority. Most of the books on meditation in a bookstore today are heavily influenced by monk-think. Therefore, prepare yourself to realize that Instinctive Meditation is NOT designed to try to convert you into a celibate Hindu or Buddhist. And the teachings of Instinctive Meditation are quite different than monk teachings.
The approach we take with Instinctive Meditation is sensible and welcoming. For example, see developing a healthy practice.
Over the past 2500 years or so, many different meditation traditions have arisen, and each has its own set of styles for dealing with thoughts. In general, there is a tendency to define meditation as some form of blanking out the mind. In the second verse of the Yoga Sutras, for example, Patanjali says, yogah chitta vritti nirodhah. This is usually translated as "Yoga is stoppage of the wave forms of the mind." Nirodhah is variously translated as stoppage, suppression, restraint, or inhibition.
Defining yoga meditation as stoppage is fine as long as you do not need a mind. If you are a slave you do not need a mind – just do what you are told. Do what the master or guru or cult leader says. In the ancient world, in the ancient feudal systems, there was very little choice. If you are living in a world in which there is no choice – you have no choice about what to wear, where to work, who to marry, if to marry, where to stay, what to learn, then you do not need much of a mind. You just do what you are told. You do not need your individuality, either. And any intelligence and creativity you have will just cause trouble. So get rid of it too. This was the situation for most of the people the meditation traditions were designed for, historically. They were young males who had been given or sold to the monastery, and were now told to wear these robes and sit and think of Buddha all day long. They have to learn to suppress all their other urges.
If, however, you are not a slave or a cult member who just has to follow orders and obey authority, then you definitely need your mind, your individuality, and your creativity.
In learning to meditate instinctively, it is sometimes challenging to give up the addiction to anti-instinctive fantasies. There are a lot of fantasies in meditation-land, and one of the most pervasive is the fantasy of control. You can save yourself a lot of time and struggle by forgetting everything you think you know about meditation – that it involves the struggle to blank out your mind, that you have to sit cross-legged, that you have to surrender to a Master, and so on. Just start fresh and start to develop what for you is a healthy approach to meditation.
There is a seed of truth in the control fantasy. Spiritual organizations, cult leaders, ashrams, and brainwashing techniques all make use of "thought control" methods. This is where you define "obedience to the Master" or "approved groupthink" as GOOD, and all independent attitudes as BAD. Then you use that dichotomy to set the individual at war with his or her own individuality. This is a known effective way of creating submissive, compliant herd members. Masters need lots of slaves.
Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a crowd control technique, to get herds of people, even young males, to make themselves submissive and obedient. In the past, meditation was primarily an occupation for Hindu or Buddhist monks, who lived obedient, quiet, submissive lives in special buildings in Asia. Because monks have no choices to make about what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what jobs to do – all they do is obey – it is okay for them to perform a kind of software lobotomy on their brains, and strangle into submission most of their creative juices. Monks are supposed to just drift around placidly and not feel anything about anything. Their teaching is that passion is poison. And that's fine, for monks to think that and try to murder their passion.
In the past forty years or so, the demographics have changed dramatically. Meditation, in America and Europe, is almost entirely an activity belonging to people who have jobs, families, houses, friends, and personal lives. Out of the millions of people in the United States who meditate consistently, over 60% are women. Only a tiny percentage of all meditators are male monks. It is harmful for American women to practice techniques developed for male monks, that involve killing off emotions, killing passion, and killing off the instincts.
Thought control fantasies sound cool, as if there is a mute button for your brain. You just click on your magic remote control and swoosh, your mind goes blank. This appeals to the beleaguered but heroic self that is just trying to make it through the day.
In a healthy practice, when we meditate, we invite all parts of ourselves to participate, all aspects of our being. That means when you sit to meditate, you will tend to remember everything you've forgotten to do, and you'll realize that your priorities may need to shift. Day in and day out, about half of meditation time will be spent with the brain just sorting through its to-do list.