Unwelcome mindstates

Ajahn Sumedho, from a talk called Not Looking for Answers, Not Asking for Favours, published in The Sound of Silence:

I used to hate feeling confused. I loved having a sense of certainty and mental clarity. Whenever I felt confused by anything, I’d try to find some kind of clear answer, to get rid of the emotional state of confusion. I’d distract myself from it or try to get somebody else to give me the answer. I wanted authorities and Ajahns, the big guys, to come and say, ‘That’s right, that’s wrong, that’s good, that’s bad.’ I wanted to be clear and needed somebody, an authority figure that I trusted and respected, to straighten me out.

…So I started looking at the confusion. When I began to embrace it and totally accept it, it dropped away. Through acknowledging the emotional confusion, it ceased being a problem; it seemed to dissolve into thin air. I became aware of how much I resisted confusion as an experience.

In meditation, we can notice these difficult states of mind: not knowing what to do next or feeling confused about our practice, ourselves, or life. In our practice we do not try to get rid of these mindstates but simply acknowledge what they feel like: this is uncertainty and insecurity; this is grief and anguish; this is depression, worry, and anxiety; this is fear, aversion, guild, remorse. We might try to make the case that if we were healthy normal people we wouldn’t have these emotions. But the idea of a normal person is a fantasy of the mind. Do you know any really normal people? I don’t.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I remember the day I discovered that I could make confusion the object of my attention, watching it rather than trying to resolve it. It was a breakthrough, and I sometimes need to remind myself, years later, “This is how it is”, when those thoughts and feelings come.

We often feel things we’d rather not feel and think things we’d rather not think. The Buddha’s first truth identifies this as the natural way of things. No one experiences only certainty, peace, and loveliness — it’s just not how life comes. The choice before us is: how will we handle the unwelcome mindstates that come to us?

It may seem entirely unnatural NOT to try to dispel confusion or escape fear, but if we put these things at the center and claim them as “mine”, they’ve got us in their grip. If we can interrupt this process with mindfulness, we can experience all manner of unpleasantness with curiosity and without claiming them as ours. Unhappy states (and happy ones) can rise, change, and fall away without our interference. This is what “being in the moment” means; being with experience so completely that there’s no time to own it.

1 Comment

Filed under Causes and results, General, Mindfulness, Patience

One response to “Unwelcome mindstates

  1. Anonymous

    Just what the doctor ordered ….thanks Lynn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s