On thinking — hard and soft
I didn’t sleep well last night. Some dream I now can’t remember woke me up, and despite the presence of my roommate Ekajati — who like her Tibetan name suggests, is not only my personal protector but also a cat and so an expert sleeper — there I was lying awake. And not just awake. But thinking. And hard. I suspect that if the light was on, that like the bear in the cartoon I’m attaching to this post, it would have been possible to see my “hard thinking face.” So there I am in the middle of the night feeling assaulted by negativity and worry about my life and other peoples’ lives related to the current Covid-related uncertainty. Thinking. Hard. And then, to add another layer, I start fretting about whether my mindfulness practice has abandoned me. That I’ve suddenly lost the ability to let go and switch off. What to do with all the thinking!?
Thinking often gets a bad rap in mindfulness and meditation circles. But thought generation is a natural manifestation of the energy of the mind — the misconception being that we are supposed to somehow switch it off in formal practice. Yet we as people actually need to think to get anything done. To be mindful and meditate is not to banish what appears in the content of our minds. But since what we are actually cultivating is awareness, the practice is to bring attention to what is happening. So if we are thinking, we simply notice that. In the noticing lies the opportunity to engage with what is happening, or not. Or to engage with it differently. To put on one’s “soft thinking face” — to become discerning about how we relate to what we are thinking about. And to remember, that when we get caught up in hard thinking at times, like I did last night — hard hard thinking — that we can always start afresh. That it doesn’t mean that we are useless. It means that we are human. We turn toward the hardness asking, “Can I be with this right now?” and “Is there another way?” To pause, to soften, and to breathe. The cat lies quietly at my side. The light is dim. Softness all around.