The Way of Seeing® -- a simple, practical path


Don't Fight the Mind

The following dialogue occurred during a group meeting with Ken Russell.

Woman: I'm very impressed with the way people in this meditation class are becoming more aware of what's happening to them and making their lives more peaceful. I'm here for that. But it's not happening for me.
Ken: Why is it not happening?
Woman: I sit down to meditate (she has been doing the counting meditation) and I get to three and then my mind goes away and comes back and then gets to three again or four.
Ken: Where does your mind go?
Woman: Just off to thoughts, different thoughts. Different things, different days, nothing in particular, there's no common theme, if that's what you're asking me.
Ken: Okay. Do you understand the importance of the formal meditation exercise?
Woman: I don't know if I do or not.
Ken: Oh, ok. It's very important. You need to see that your thoughts are not you, they happen to you. Without being able to separate from your mind it is hard to start fully experiencing your feelings, and your feelings are the gateways to that which is deeper. So meditation is foundational on the spiritual path. This is to say nothing of the benefits of being more clear and calm in your everyday life.
Woman: Right. That's why I keep getting up every morning and trying to do it. My intention is to go there and to count to ten and then it goes away.
Ken: How does it go away?
Woman: I don't know, I just start thinking about things. I keep bringing my mind back to the numbers.
Ken: That's exactly what needs to happen when you lose track of the numbers. What is the problem?
Woman: I don't know, it feels like I am fighting my mind. It's exhausting.
Ken: How are you fighting the mind?
Woman: I'm telling it to stop and taking myself back to the numbers.
Ken: But those aren't the instructions you received, were they?
Woman: No, just to take my mind back to the numbers.
Ken: That is the whole secret. You don't fight with the mind. You cannot win because any fighting of the mind is done with the mind. The trick is to simply shift your attention to something else, in this case to the numbers. Other forms of meditation use breath and mantra.
This is also the key in daily living. Don't fight with thoughts. Just put your attention elsewhere. If you are walking you pay attention to the physical sensations of walking. My article "On Not harboring Thoughts" talks about that.
Woman: Ok. But it feels like a struggle. And maybe fighting is not the right word, it just feels like a struggle to stay with those numbers.
Ken: How is it a struggle?
Woman: Well, the mind wants to think all kinds of things, you know.
Ken: Yes, that is what the mind likes to do, run its trips unrestrained, so it is supremely unhappy about doing meditation.
Woman: Well, that's a question I have. Why is the mind not my friend? Why is my mind doing these bad things to me? Why shouldn't my mind be my friend?
Ken: Oh, ok, fair enough. Where did you get your mind from? Were you born with this mind in its present form?
Woman: No, I wasn't. It's come from all the life experiences I've had throughout my life.
Ken: So that's where the mind came from, right? So the mind is not intrinsic to you. It's external, in a sense it's something imposed on you. And the prime givers of the mind are your parents, your mother and father, who I assume were not enlightened sages of the highest order.
Woman: (laughing) Right.
Ken: So they were messed up, right?
Woman: Totally.
Ken: So why are you surprised that your mind is not your friend? Were your parents your friends?
Woman: They thought they were.
Ken: But the reality was?
Woman: Probably not.
Ken: Probably?
(Woman begins to cry) So close your eyes and just be with your feelings. As best you can, just stay with the feeling.
Woman: It's embarrassing.
Ken: When strong feelings or insights come crying can happen. It happens to many people. It has happened to me. Its okay, it's healing.
Woman: I know.
Ken: This is a gift to other people too. Everyone usually has similar issues.
Woman: Thank you. I never thought about my parents not being my friend before. It's tough.
Ken: It must have been tough growing up as a kid without people who genuinely cared for you.
Woman: The hardest part is that I know I've passed that on to my own son.
Ken: How old is he?
Woman: He's thirty.
Ken: Ok. But you had no choice as long as you were unconscious. It's like a virus that gets passed from parent to child, and parent to child. So you need to forgive yourself for any failure you might have had with your son because it was done out of ignorance, not any ill intention.
Woman: I tell myself I should've known better. And I know that came from my parents.
Ken: How could you have known better?
Woman: Wanting to be a good person and do the right thing, and then what was the right thing, and I didn't always do the right thing.
Ken: But you can't be a good person unless you're aware.
Woman: That's true.
Ken: That's the bottom line. You can act good, but you can't be a genuinely good person unless you're aware and in touch with your depths. You're putting a very unreasonable demand on yourself. Your goodness is intrinsic to you but buried. It just needs to be uncovered, not manufactured.
Woman: I've gone through what I call an exercise of trying to forgive myself so many times and I think I've done it and it comes up again.
Ken: Because you can't forgive yourself by doing an exercise. You forgive yourself by uncovering how the whole mess happened and then it's obvious that you are not responsible for what happened.
This is why awareness is so important because you begin to see how the whole thing was put together. How in your interaction with your parents you got messed up, and how you passed that on to your kids. And then the whole thing begins to clear naturally. It begins to clear by releasing buried emotions left over from earlier in life. As these reservoirs of pain and fear bleed out you become more and more in touch with your inherent goodness.
Woman: He's a surprisingly good person in spite of me.
Ken: That's a very ungenerous comment for yourself.
Woman: Yeah, I know.
Ken: One of the things that would be very helpful is to begin to have real compassion for yourself. Sometimes it can be useful to go back and see how we had no choice, that we had to develop protective patterns to buffer us from an unhealthy situation. The ways we attempt to buffer ourselves becomes our conditioning and creates problems when we are adults and it is no longer needed.
We were born without problems but we got infected from our parents and society. When you see that at a deep level you don't have to think about forgiveness, it's just there.
So I would strongly suggest being very gentle and kind with yourself, and really watching the self-critical thoughts you tell yourself and understanding that those thoughts are part of the program you got from your parents. This is where the meditation comes in.
The purpose of the meditation is to give you enough distance from your thoughts, so you can see the highly critical thoughts your mind flings at you.
I'm sure you're son is not 'ok in spite of you,' but you were not identical to your parents, so you did the best you could. The fact that you're in here working on yourself, says there's something very positive going on in your life There aren't very many people willing to tackle this stuff. This is not easy, as you have gathered.
So you need to be kind and gentle with yourself and you need to put more energy into the meditation. How long are you sitting for?
Woman: Twenty minutes.
Ken: Ok. How does that time seem to you?
Woman: It seems a little long.
Ken: Okay. Cut it back to fifteen minutes and when you can do that well, slowly start increasing to 25 minutes. You don't have to do it right away, but as soon as you can. And before you sit down to meditate you want to get very clear about your intent. You owe it to yourself.
Woman: Yeah.
Ken: So this will help, yeah? So before you put the timer on, you want to say, "this time is just for this, and I have the rest of the day to worry, fret, plan, anticipate, remember, etc." and just put your total energy into it for whatever time you have chosen.
When I first started doing this it took me weeks before I could get past three. That is ok. The meditation works as long as you do it to the best of your ability. The best of your ability means, if you can make it to three, you're doing it to the best of your ability, that's just as good as somebody who's doing it to the best of their ability and makes it to ten all the time. When you lose count, you don't beat yourself, you don't say, "Oh, shit" you just simply go back to one and continue.
Woman: That's one thing I haven't been doing is beating myself, but I just don't seem to be able to stay on the numbers, but maybe I haven't been setting a good enough intention.
Ken: The intention has to be fierce, not namby-pamby. Because this is important to you. Do you get a sense of why it's important?
Woman: Yes.
Ken: The meditation is foundational. If you can't get distance from your mind, you can't tune in (getting in touch with your feelings).
Woman: That explains why I haven't been able to tune in.
Ken: What kind of work do you do?
Woman: I teach a quiet form of physical conditioning.
Ken: Oh, ok, so I assume you have a fair amount of time to be quiet.
Woman: Not always.
Ken: What happens?
Woman: I walk pretty much every place I go, so a lot of the day I'm in transit from one place to another, but I probably do have more time to be quiet than most people do.
Ken: And what do you do when you walk?
Woman: I'm thinking all the time. And looking at what I'm seeing.
Ken: How about putting your attention on your body when you walk, on your breathing, on what you are seeing. And practice looking without associations; just see what you're seeing without letting the mind spin off on it.
You can almost turn the walking into a meditation, anybody can. You need to keep your mind from churning and cranking out thought after thought. The idea is to fast the mind, not feed it. Don't let it run endlessly, bring it back to something non-verbal like walking, the breath, non-vocal music.
So play with this. Experiment, put your energy into quieting the mind by shifting attention, not fighting. After a while you will be able to meditate more deeply and then the tuning in becomes easier. In fact, the tuning in is ultimately far more important than the meditation because these feelings we have inside us actually fuel the thoughts.
Woman: Say that one more time.
Ken: Everybody has debris left over from childhood, there's pain, there's fear, and these buried feelings get triggered by events in our life. But normally we stuff them. But the energy in the feelings has to go somewhere and where it goes is to energize the thinking process; how you protected yourself as a child.
Woman: (crying) I'm the world's best feeling stuffer.
Ken: Close your eyes, just stay with your feelings for a moment. Very gently, just totally accept whatever you are feeling. Don't let your thoughts distract you, pull you away. There's no need to understand them or label them. All that's necessary is simply to feel them.
(After a few minutes) What feeling are you in touch with?
Woman: I was feeling a lot of sadness.
Ken: Ok. Sadness is a good sign. It is not a negative unless you allow the mind to interpret it this way. Then you get depressed. Sadness has a "spiritual" quality connected with it. I have found that sadness is always associated with growth, it has a cleansing, healing quality. So always honor sadness by feeling it deeply.
As your meditation deepens, it will be easier to stay in touch with your feelings. It's good, they're not too buried, they are near the surface.
Woman: Most of the time. I feel like I had a little success just now with that one because I could hear my mind telling myself that I had so many stuffed feelings that it was going to take longer than I have life left to get them all out. And I just said stop, let that go, I tried to do what you said, that's the mind trying to pull me away from this feeling. And about that time you said stay with the feeling and I was able to let the thought go. It was kind of a refreshing thing.
Ken: It's good you caught your mind trying to interfere. If you learn to stay out of your mind then you fall into something much deeper.
I think you are doing much better than you believe. Don't accept the mind's constant picking away at you.
Woman: Thanks, that's encouraging.

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