The Great Welcome
Welcoming Thoughts (and feelings)
Thoughts are just thoughts, and they are generally attached (laden with stories, conditioned reactivity, etc.). Thoughts rattle and rile us up on every front and in every way, from bold inspiration to abject despair. Is it possible to play with one's thoughts?
I have just returned from a weekend long silent meditation retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA. The title of the weekend was Your Life is Your Practice, and it was taught by two wise and seasoned teachers, Narayan Liebenson and Greg Scharf. I have sat under these teachers before, and was again deeply impressed with their depth. There were about ninety other participants (yogis) at the retreat with me. Each of us had our own story, but as it was a silent retreat those stories were in the invisible spaces around our silence. We did sitting meditation and walking meditation, and that was all. Instructive guidance was offered by the teachers. So much could be said, but for now I'll focus on the theme I presented at the outset.
Playing with thoughts sounds a bit cavalier, as if they are of no more import than a random and fleeting zephyr. (Well, that is the truth about most thoughts.) How about if we use the term Welcoming? Is it possible to welcome riling and rattling thoughts and feelings?
Let me give an example. The muscles in my back are not entirely loose and relaxed...and that is an understatement. Sitting meditation, and some walking meditation, takes these already tense muscles and inclines them to strain, tighten and burn. After 25 minutes on the chair or on the mat parts of my back are shrieking for a lie down or a stretch. How in the world can I focus on my thoughts when my back is clamoring for relief? Welcome?
"Welcome back pain!" "Hello Friend!"
I felt a bit silly when I first tried this out. Instead of fighting with the pain I welcomed it. The change in focus and attitude had an immediate impact on the tension in my shoulders and back. I had the space (like saying, "This is just a thought.") to bring compassion and kindness to my back. The pain was not my adversary; it was just there, and, in time, it would pass away.
And, in fact, it passed away pretty quickly, and I was able to mindfully appreciate and see my thoughts and see the moment without struggle.
Soon the pain returned. I was still sitting, and knew we would be sitting for a further twenty minutes. I welcomed the pain again. Space.
And, again. Space.
So it went on. Every moment of welcoming acknowledgement of the pain was a moment of mindful insight. I was learning about the pain rather than fighting it. I was seeing it and developing the wisdom to live with it.
I wouldn't be so bold as to say I have successfully learned to "play" with my thoughts and feelings on this retreat. I can say, though, that I began to experience what it might be like to consider them friends for the moment, and for me, that is saying a lot.