Tracking our thoughts

If you’ve read any of the previous posts you’ll have picked up on references to present moment awareness as being of key importance to developing your inner life. I’m not the only one saying this, two and a half thousand years ago the Buddha was saying much the same and his successors and other teachers and guides have reminded us of the imprtance of it down the ages.

I find for myself awareness of the breath is the simplest way to bring attention to the present. But you can equally take some time as you walk along, cycling round each of the senses, spending a few minutes on each just taking in everything within your field of awareness for that sense.

Of course the mind is not habituated to being silent for most of us and our modern culture often reinforces a very busy and talkative inner voice. So what can we do about that?

Well if you’ve tried you’ll know all too well that you can’t force the mind to be silent. In fact you’ll get yourself down trying. The trick is not to be too hard on yourself. This isn’t a struggle you can win by force and I would encourage you not to even see it as a ‘struggle’ at all.

Just by patiently bringing the mind back to the breathing – an extension of the awareness of touch – or the sounds we hear, smells around us etc. we will start to see the mind quiet by itself. But be sure to give yourslef several weeks before you expect to see great results with this. You wouldn’t expect to pick up a violin and start playing complex music in a day or two. This is no different, results will come but please be patient. In fact learning patience is a great skills in itself and one that brings its own benefits.

Here’s another trick you can use and one I rather enjoy. Next time you find your mind has strayed, instead of going straight back to the breath or whatever you were using as a focus, try to track back in your thoughts to the point were they first arose. You might find there are five, ten or even more stages in your thought chain by the time you’ve realised it’s happened.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably find that what started it all off was something you saw. A stray piece of information picked up by your eyes that triggered a half remembered detail, that led to another thought, that then became more creative and wandered off and before you know it you’re lost in some inner fantasy world, often comprising a semi accurate re-telling of some past event but this time with a more favourable alternative ending, or some such.

You’ll find tht with practice you can actually get quite good at this and you’ll be able to track back even quite long thought chains. The reason I’m suggesting this as an exercise is that the benefit is that you’ll also be much quicker to spot when your thoughts start to stray and bring them back. The more often and the quicker you guide your thoughts back to you object of focus the more present moment awareness you’ll develop.

As this skills grows you’ll start to see and feel a different world opening up. You might recognise some of the glimpses you get at first from childhood, probably the last time you spent a lot of time in the present. You’ll find the present is vast, deep and detailed and within it vistas of the most serene and peacful joy can arise,often quite spontaneously.

That is a rare gift to have at your side in life and I hope you perservere long enough to enjoy it.

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