With Meditation, Timing is Everything
Like everyone, when I meditate I have some pretty crazy thoughts pass through my mind, especially in the beginning of a session when I'm still settling in. I've become pretty good at not taking them too seriously, simply watching them with a gentle sense of humor. I try to view all my thoughts equally as “just information.” The phrase I say to myself is “Ok, just notice that.” I say the phrase very sweetly. This helps me let the thought pass naturally, without getting wrapped up in it. The other day, in the same sweet tone, I heard myself say, “OK, just ignore that.” It took me a beat to realize what I had just said to myself. I smiled and chuckled. “OK, well, just notice THAT,” I said. And I resumed my meditation.
I tried to recall the thought that
inspired the “ignore-that” reaction.
After I finished meditating, I tried to recall the thought that inspired the “ignore-that” reaction. Unsurprisingly, it was a pretty weighty realization. Then I considered why my instinct had been to ignore it - I usually enjoy getting into the murkier parts of my mind. In thinking it over, I realized that there was a lot of wisdom in my instinct.
For starters, I had to go teach shortly, and I try not to go very deep into psychologically difficult things before I teach. It takes a lot of energy to do that kind of work, and I want to feel fresh and foccussed when I teach. Secondly, I had an interview later in the day, and I certainly wanted to feel alert and bright for that. And lastly, I was feeling pretty unsettled in general, which isn’t the time to dig deep.
Timing is everything.
Going deep takes skill. And timing is everything. You don’t go all out at the gym if you’re under-slept, haven’t eaten, and hung over. It’s a recipe for getting hurt. Same with our mind and heart. If you want to wade into the muddy parts — the parts where the sludge suctions against the sole of your boot and you struggle just to take a step — best to do so when you’re feeling strong and psychologically buoyant.
Most importantly, we need time to do this kind of exploration. Time to walk through the gooey gunk, time to clean off our boots and take a hot shower after wards, and time to sit back and stare at the sky, letting the whole thing sink in.
We don’t get to choose what our minds present to us, and we certainly don’t get to choose when. Ignoring what comes up because we don’t have time isn’t sustainable in the long term, but in the short term, taking a pass until a more appropriate time — say on the weekend or during retreat — can be a pretty smart move.