Thoughts: Great servants, poor masters

On Monday, October 8, 2018, our Path to Freedom Center led a gathering in Ardmore (suburb of Philadelphia) to celebrate the gift of being human; and we invested time together in reflecting on how we are living our life and opportunities for change.

The event’s focus was on thoughts as a core foundation of Buddhist spirituality and meditation as a core component of understanding & training our minds: Are my thoughts my servants, or are they sometimes my master in which I get swept away into emotions and reacting based on the story I have created in my mind? …

The human brain provides amazing faculties including the abilities to plan, solve a problem, imagine, ruminate, evaluate, judge, compare … you get the point. All these faculties are valuable and in many situations serve me well. Together we explored the opportunity to change my life by changing how I use my thinking, specifically:
1) Identity: Descartes wrote “I think therefore I am.” One way to express what the Buddhist path provides is “I am aware therefore I am.” My awareness is the knower of my thoughts. Simply put, identification with the knower of the thoughts is a very different place to respond than from identification with the thoughts (i.e., “This story is My story.”, “These views are MY views.”)
2) Compassion: I benefit from being aware of my thoughts from a position of curiosity and friendliness. From that inclination I am in a much better position to respond in giving myself the care that I need, in providing an understanding of why certain things are arising now, and bringing curiosity about “What can I learn from seeing what is actually happening now and my response to it?”
3) Concentration: Meditation is so central to this journey. It is a practice for cultivating concentration and mindfulness on the eightfold path. With a sustained daily meditation practice, many positive changes are cultivated including: (i) seeing more clearly: increased friendly awareness of what is happening now, and (2) identification with the knower: by watching my stream of experiences.
4) Cause and Effect: What I tend to think about repeatedly becomes patterns, tendencies in thoughts. We have built-in circuitry and a cultural bias to think about what might go wrong, what could be better, what is missing. By seeing more moments (see Concentration above) and having a healthy separation between the knower and what is being known (see Identity above), I can inject choice into what I think about. That is a part of the path to freedom …

1) Daily concentration practice: Why? Central practice to cultivating mental skills necessary for concentration, insight, and compassion.
2) Insight practice – labeling types of thoughts as they arise such as “planning”, “judging”, and “fantasizing.” Why? Allows for the knowing of the thought and seeing patterns in them without getting caught up in their content.
3) Walking meditation – Why? Walking meditation as the intentional focus on the sensations in the body during motion is a way to practice the distinction between knowing bodily experiences (e.g., the shifting of muscles to retain balance, the feel of the floor under my feet) and thoughts (e.g., “Wow, I must look silly walking in circles” or “It’s hard to retain my balance at this pace”).

Implement the above practices consistently/daily for a few weeks. Keep us posted on any challenges, customizations, what works well for you, and what you notice in how you are showing up in the world in relating to yourself and others.

1 thought on “Thoughts: Great servants, poor masters”

  1. Thank you Rob for the compassionate space you have created. I particularly enjoyed the “billboard” exercise and have been considering how, when and if I should share those billboard thoughts that I have been holding back.

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