Introduction if you have missed Part 1 & 2:
Recently I was thinking about some close friends who are younger than I am, raising families, with busy lives in the world. I could appreciate that it might be quite some time before they would be able to sit a long retreat. So I started wondering if there was a way for people in those circumstances to integrate some kind of meditation technique into their daily activities that could really touch the transformative power of the practice. On longer retreats it’s easier to access meditative depths, but when we’re otherwise intensely engaged, it can be quite a challenge.
Session III: As the Thought Arises…
The last area where we get caught a lot in terms of self is the identification with our thoughts. We have thousands of thoughts a day, most of which are casual and low-key. Often we’re not even aware of them. And almost all have to do with self—our activities, our future projects, our memories, and the imagined events that involve us.
During an earlier retreat, I noticed that this more subtle stream of thought is like a dream state, and the thought arose, “I’m just dreaming myself into existence.” Reflecting on this in the time since then, I see that we’re continually dreaming ourselves into existence because we’re not aware of thoughts as they’re coming through. So the sense of self is continually being reinforced.
For the third three minutes, then, we simply watch for thoughts arising and passing, as we often do in meditation, but with a further turbo-charge: we pay more careful attention so that we’re right there, precisely as the thought arises. If the awareness is sharp, we’ll observe a thought arise and vanish in the moment. That experience repeatedly weakens the identification with thought. We discover that there’s hardly anything there, just a wisp. In our normal lives, with our usual level of attention, we’re not conscious of this. But for three minutes we can bring in enough focus so that we actually see it.
This is what I call “the nine-minute-a-day, turbo-charged path to enlightenment.” It’s important to add, though, that nine minutes a day by itself won’t be enough. It needs to be built into the foundation of a daily meditation practice, together with the cultivation of the first strand of right understanding mentioned earlier: the awareness that our actions have consequences. If this nine-minute-a-day program is combined with other aspects of a daily practice, then I believe it can really enliven our understanding of how to apply the teachings in the midst of a very busy life.