All right! All right! Those dharma teachers were speaking the truth: it is fascinating to watch the mind, or at least pretty interesting, just as Carol Wilson claimed at Spirit Rock in April.
After the retreat, I requested and received copies of Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s three free books and have just finished re-reading the one we were lent on retreat (Don’t Look Down on the Defilements—They Will Laugh at You) a few pages at a time. It’s a small book with cartoon illustrations, not a typical format for a dharma book. It’s chatty and encouraging. Here’s one of my favorite lines: “The more continuous your mindfulness is, the sharper and more receptive the mind becomes.”
It is compelling to see more and more clearly the interplay of the mind, body and emotions, how they affect each other: One has a thought and it may produce an emotion and/or a physical experience. The latter two make it seem that the thought must have been the simple truth, so then the thought gets elaborated on, and the emotion gets stronger, and maybe ditto the physical aspect, and then there is even more thinking, and the whole thing seems increasingly real.
It’s the thinking that feeds the whole thing. Said the Buddha: “All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind.” Once we stop feeding the thought, by whatever means—putting our attention on the visceral sensations, seeing the thought as a thought, attending to our breath—the whole thing can vanish like magic. Due to the attempt to practice continuous relaxed mindfulness, storylines are pretty short lately, and the cessation aspect has become quite noticeable: What happened to that whole thing I was fretting about two minutes ago, which seemed so real? Once it was no longer supported by thinking, it was unable to persist. There are whole worlds arising and disappearing in a matter of seconds, rather than minutes, hours or weeks. Howie mentions now and then that we can go our entire lives—decades!—without noticing that we have obscured the real with the imaginary.
Aspiring to practice continuously also ensures there is never a moment without something interesting to do, because there is always something going on in the mind. At the same time, with fewer extended storylines, life seems increasingly simple, and very satisfying just as it is. The soup kitchen has helped with that, as well. It’s long been my practice to appreciate that I get to sleep inside and not on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk, and that I have a refrigerator full of food, and so forth, and being at the soup kitchen weekly has heightened that appreciation, along with the wish that no person ever had to sleep outside who didn’t wish to and that no one ever had to go hungry.