I was all snuggled up on the couch, ready to brave the stormy night with Star Wars. The iconic yellow text retreated into the star field and I felt completely safe from Dark Forces; without warning the thunderstorm seethed and the sound of hail bashing our house drowned out the opening refrain.
“Oh DEAR GOD my plants! I’m going to LOSE EVERYTHING! Forget about finding Luke Skywalker and restoring the Balance of the Force. I have to do something!
My garden wasn’t in a galaxy, far, far away, it was just down the road being pummeled with frozen marbles. I temporarily lost my mind; my adrenaline revved up to run to the rescue. I imagined myself darting out to the car, driving four blocks in a flash flood, sprinting to my garden plot… and then… what?
What could I possibly do to protect my baby spinach and my unborn beets?
Nothing, I realized.
No rescue plan would be successful. If the storm was going to flood my seeds and pulverize my kale then it was going to do it whether I was on my couch or whether I was fighting my way through mud, losing my mind trying to stop it. This wasn’t Star Wars and it wasn’t a real disaster. This was just a Midwest thunderstorm.
Sometimes during meditation, the mind does this ‘overreacting’ bit like it’s trying to win an Academy Award. The mind identifies a small problem, turns it into a disaster and then creates an elaborate rescue plan. It’s exhausting.
Thought: I’m feeling sad today.
Erroneous catastrophe: If I’m feeling sad right now, then I must be sad ALL the time and I must be depressed. Something is inherently wrong with me.
Rescue Plan: I need to call a doctor immediately, check on my health insurance plan for covering anti-depressants and eat a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips while I’m on hold.
Thought: I’m feeling tired right now.
Erroneous catastrophe: There must be something wrong with my metabolism and I probably have cancer of the thyroid.
Rescue Plan: I’ll start planning my own funeral so my cousin won’t feel entitled to play a Prince cover as my eulogy.
Thought: I’m feeling annoyed at this person.
Erroneous catastrophe: This person is the bane of my existence and I’ll never be happy if I have to stay on the same project team as him.
Rescue Plan: I’ll devise a way to get this person fired so I never have to work with him again. Then, I’ll rule the world.
The tool that yoga philosophy and mindfulness meditation gives us is discernment.
This is the ability to realize that we are not our thoughts; we can have a thought without being defined by that thought.
As Sharon Salzberg writes, “Most of the time, we think we are our thoughts. We forget, or have never noticed, that there’s an aspect of our mind that’s watching these thoughts arise and pass away.”
The Sanskrit term for this ‘keen discernment’ is viveka. This is when we hone our ability to consciously discern ourselves from the rescue plan of anxiety and instead exercise clear judgement, which can help us avoid unnecessary suffering. We don’t always have to rush to the scene with a rescue plan. Very often, it is a better choice to watch the movie and story unfold.
One impressively simple and effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’
When you are meditating, your mind will wander.
Don’t create a rescue plan. Instead, simply notice what you are thinking. Categorize it: plan, worry, remembrance, distraction, anticipation, new idea. Then watch the thought trickle away.
“Naming Your Thoughts: Developing Discernment Viveka”
- Find your meditation seat and set your timer for 8 minutes.
- Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
- Sit with only breath awareness for a few minutes, just notice your breath coming and going without changing it.
- Notice what thoughts are present in your awareness.
- When a thought arises that is noticeable enough to distract you from your breath, label it ‘thinking.’
- If it is more distinct, then you can label it more specifically: ‘planning, worrying, anticipating, remembering, ruminating.’
- Return to your easy breath awareness; remind yourself: you do not need a rescue plan.
At the end of the 8 minutes, take a few cleansing breaths and notice how to you feel.
Try it. “Thinking Meditation”
May the Force Be With You,
Guided Meditation Teachings
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