What the brayings are...

I love to rant and complain. It's like a hobby. I've been doing it on Facebook for several years. I used the name "Braying Jack Cass." That's because Facebook doesn't allow any usernames with the word "Jackass" in it. The nerve!

But then someone reported me for using a fake name, as if someone could have the actual name "Jack Cass." It's possible. Just like I'm sure there are some people named "Ben Dover" and "Mona Lott" and "Frank Furter" out there. Some parents have a sense of humor. And others are too dumb to make the connection.

Since I can't be on Facebook at work (the nerve!) here's a place I can come to rant during the day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The magnetic pull of thoughts and the "push/pull" dynamic, notes on meditation

Thousands of thoughts pop up during the day. All day long thoughts are coming and going. Most thoughts pop up, then fade. “That tree is brown,” “the car is blue,” “there’s a squirrel,” thoughts such as these come up and fade. But if a thought is bound to “me” it has a magnetic pull that attracts attention. “Rent is due tomorrow, do I have enough money?” “my job sucks, I want a new one,” “I’m too old,” thoughts such as these, or even more trivial ones that pertain to “me” and “my life” pull the attention. Then what happens next is that either a push or pull happens. This is both a physical and mental process. Attention is focused on the thought, if the thought is unwanted a “pushing away” happens, if the thought is pleasant a “pulling in” happens. Either way, this attention and action serves to amplify the thought. The thought now grows and continues. If it’s a particularly important issue that needs resolution, then it will become a nagging thought, continually popping up, attracting attention, and generating a “push” or a “pull.”

So the difference between a “benign thought” and a “malignant thought” is that the benign thought doesn’t attract significant attention and provoke the “push/pull” movement which amplifies and empowers the thought. This action of “push/pull” also engenders other thoughts such as “I shouldn’t be thinking this way,” “I wish these thoughts would stop,” which themselves engage the “push/pull” dynamic. This attention focus and “push/pull” dynamic is insidious. It happens all day long. And even if you become aware of it, it doesn’t stop. Attention is still drawn to certain thoughts which engages the “push/pull” dynamic. What can be seen though, is that if a provocative thought pops up and IS NOT engaged (i.e. it is allowed to come and go, it isn’t engaged) it simply fades. It needs the attention and the “push/pull” to live. It dies without this. But…considering how this dynamic has been happening our entire lives it is an extremely difficult thing to stop. We are taught that are thoughts are extremely important, we need to mull over our problems and come up with solutions, we need to “think positive,” etc., when in fact the “push/pull” dynamic is not necessary whatsoever. The thoughts will still come. Bad, good, indifferent. Thoughts are informational, or observational. They are phenomena that arise and then fade.

This is what Zen masters have been describing for centuries, what the Buddha himself described. Yet the wording is problematic. The wording of these teachings makes it sound as though thoughts themselves are the problem. That thinking is the issue. That thinking and thoughts need to stop. Thinking and thoughts don’t cause suffering, it’s the “push/pull” dynamic that causes the suffering. It causes a physical/mental process that focuses attention and energy on the thought, causing it to increase. And it’s a vicious cycle, self-perpetuating.

What happens during meditation is that the practicioner is advised to focus on breathing and if thoughts drift, bring them back to the breathe. This leads the practioner to believe that thinking is the issue. Thinking is wrong. Thoughts need to stop. So what happens is that a thought arises, such as “I need to get groceries, I have nothing for dinner,” then immediately another thought, “I shouldn’t be thinking!” and then attention is drawn to these and the “push/pull” dynamic engages.

It is very subtle to see that thoughts can simply arise, and then fade. Even “trigger” thoughts, such as nagging issues of money, work, health, family. It is extremely difficult not only to see this dynamic, but then to disengage the “push/pull” process by being simply a witness to a thought and not engaging it with attention. The “diamond sword” that kills thoughts is apathy, disinterest, neutrality. Although saying that it “kills thoughts” is misleading, the thought isn’t killed per se, it just simply fades of its own accord.

I would say then that meditation is to 1) see how thoughts come and go, 2) see how thoughts appear on our consciousness, are a phenomena that are observed, 3) recognize the dynamic of “trigger” or “malignant” thoughts that pull attention and engage the push/pull dynamic, 4) practice the dispassion which nullifies the thoughts.

There are many pitfalls of course. The very practice of observing the dynamic of “push/pull” and learning how to disengage in fact triggers the “push/pull.” “I shouldn’t be attached to my thoughts!” “Oh no, I’ve engaged with thoughts again, I need to be dispassionate towards them!” thoughts such as these come up, and the mechanism begins again, over and over.

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