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“if only” mind

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By the time you read this we (at the monastery, see yesterday’s post) will have been awoken by someone running down the hallway of the dormitories ringing one of those old school bells. And the moment you thought the sound was part of your dream, it’ll come again, and again … until you wake up to realize that it’s 4 am and you have less than half an hour to get up, find the shower, come back to make your bed and get dressed, walk briskly to the cafeteria for a half-cup of tea or coffee, and then make sure you don’t miss the sound of the wooden han, calling everyone to the meditation hall. By the last sound of the han you’re expected to be on your meditation cushion, sitting upright and still, ready for the first of 16 rounds of 25-minute sitting periods spread throughout a 19-hour day. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s only 4:30 am and the time keeper strikes a the big bell three times to signal . . . (and so on).

Desire is often described as the “wanting” mind or the “what if” mind. The time spent in meditation can be absorbed in endless fantasies about what we need to make us happy. Our consumerist and materialistic modern world gives enormous emphasis to feeding this desire. The power of desire can be experienced in many forms and in relation to a wide variety of objects: for example, possessions, relationships, reputations, career, achievement, sexuality, body image.

Also there are the “if only” desires that can come up about our meditation practice itself: if only my mind was not so crazy; if only I had a more comfortable cushion; if only my knees didn’t hurt so much; if only I had more time. There is really no end to the “if only” cravings that can arise during meditation.

The best antidote is to train yourself to recognize desire when it comes up while you are meditating, note it, and then simply to observe it. This takes a lot of practice [that’s why it’s called meditation practice], but if you persevere you start to notice over time that the desire is not fixed and it soon fades or changes.

source: Sharples, B. (2006). Meditation & relaxation in plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 33-34.


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