Clearing Away The Crud
Hi Roger, Sometimes when I’m meditating and my mind is running away with itself and I find myself sitting with my mind all over the place.
But I’ve noticed during these times, though I am not meditating, this sitting with my mind seems to have very beneficial effect. As it’s happening I notice myself feeling different things – sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness and sometimes anger. But these emotions don’t stay .. they come and then go. And I feel like I’m wandering a landscape of myself and everything I am and it seems very cleansing. No matter how sad or happy or angry I get , when I open my eyes after an hour or so of sitting I come out of it feeling very refreshed.
So my question is, can you explain what is happening. And tell me is what I am doing a waste of time or wrong in some way? Or is this a valid way of meditating.
When all is said and done, the most basic prerequisite of meditation can be distilled to one word:
So long as awareness and knowing is present, what you’re doing will be beneficial, and meditation will eventually work itself out.
But having said that, there is something missing from what you’re doing which is also very important.
In this passive floating from one thing to another, you’re not training the mind to be more skillful with its own processes- which is a primary part of the practice. As such, though what you’re doing is beneficial, and restful – it is not affecting change to the mental habits and reactions which cause suffering.
Now, bear with me while I explain …
In life as it is, we are taught to win, to hold on, to get, to create and so on. In short, we’re taught to accumulate things, not just on the physical plane, but mentally as well. For just as we accumulate money and property on the physical plane, so too on the mental plane, we accumulate mental things – habits, both good and bad; memories both pleasant and unpleasant and so on. These things collect in the mind like crud in an engine, affecting the way our mind functions, and our view of life – forming dysfunctional habits that affect our sense of Self – habits like worry, anxiety, depression, negative self view and so on. We weren’t born with these habits – they were formed from the accumulated crud of a life – and they become a large part of our Self definition.
After all, what is our Self, but a big formation of memories and learned habits in formations within the greater formation we call by our name. Everything we think we are, we learnt to be. We accumulated our sense of self, picking up new habits all the time – new memories, new patterns of emotion, intellect and so on.
All well and good – but the problem is, we’re always adding new habits and reactions, but rarely removing them.
So after a while, as the crud of life collects, we lose the simplicity and freshness we had in our youth. With the clutter of past experiences and reactions we’re constantly adding to our Self, our view of life and ourselves becomes over-complex, ungainly and confused as we accumulate fears, anger, sadness and so on.
So then we come to meditation.
Meditation is essentially the act of letting go. In meditation we learn to let go. We practice letting go of what we have accumulated.
And as time goes by and we practice the meditation methods, this letting go becomes more innate and automatic. Essentially, the methods help us to build a habit of letting go that prevents the usual crud from building up and altering our Self view. So we feel lighter and more fresh and our view becomes young again – but with the wisdom of age.
And its a wonderful way to be.
But here’s the rub. In this process of letting go there is one element that is essential.
And that is ‘knowing’.
Because we cannot let go of that which we do not know.
And what does this mean?
Well, to let go of pain, we must first know it – that is to say, we must first feel it – every part of it, in all its intensity. Only then, as any experience meditation practitioner will tell you, will the mind let the pain go and it will disappear.
To let go of past trauma we must first know it – that is, the memories must first be recalled and the emotions they elicit must be felt – only then will the mind let go and the trauma and it’s effects will disappear.
So ‘knowing’ must always come before letting go.
We must know the true nature of whatever is harming us, to be free of it. .
Too many people forget this. They think they can meditate blindly – by simply chanting a mantra or mindlessly noting, or visualising positive things – they think they meditate without knowing what ails them.
But that’s not meditation. All they are doing in that instance is burying these unpleasant things further inside their psyche, making it such that, like assassins in the night, these things will attack them in covert ways and sabotage their lives – all the buried rage and sadness, and all the buried anxieties and tensions.
This does not mean consciously thinking about these things, or reacting to them, or imagining them. Not at all. To wilfully dwell on anything harmful will only strengthen it.
I mean to simply be aware – to know it as it naturally arises and feel it as it is, until it is gone.
And this happens naturally as we practice a good meditation method. As we train the mind to be more efficient we notice memories, feelings and sensations of all kinds of things arising in our awareness. And our attention wants to go to them, to build them into something bigger, but we use the methods to keep letting them go, so they pass away.
In this, we’re knowing all the parts of our Self, and the accumulated crug our Self is made from, while at the same time practicing the skill of letting go.
That is good meditation.
Now, as far as I can tell, you seem to be doing one thing, but neglecting the other.
You’re drifting through the landscape of you, knowing memories, emotions, thoughts as they arise and pass away, and in this your attention is basically passive – simply wandering where it will.
This is indeed knowing and letting go and it’s very beneficial – restful and reviving. I do this myself quite often when I take a nap, or rest. It’s very pleasant and sometimes, if an unpleasant memory arises, a temporary body reaction will occur but as you say, it passes away quite quickly, and when I’ve finished resting, I always feel refreshed.
But it is not meditation.
Because, though for sure it is cleansing and refreshing, you are missing the second essential component of meditation practice – you’re not training the mind, which is why we use meditation methods in the first place – to train our attention to let go in real time – as we live.
We use the meditation methods to build a skill in the mind – to teach it to experience life without accumulating the usual mental crud of our reactions.
In meditation we are building a skill of letting go of the usual push/pull of habits, so they do not accumulate – training the mind to live life like a duck walking in the rain, the water of life running off our feathers to leave us dry and untouched inside. A clumsy analogy, but it’ll have to do.
If we can learn to live as a process of letting go instead of constantly accumulating, we wouldn’t need to meditate because life would have become meditation.
So when you’re drifting in meditation – unfocused and afloat in your inner landscape, as I said, you’re only fulfilling the first requirement of meditation – you’re knowing and letting go of inner crud.
But you are not training the mind to not collect it in the first place. And this is the most important aspect of meditation.
But, nevertheless, what you’re doing is beneficial. So keep on doing it, while at the same time, gently encourage the mind back to practicing whichever method you’re using, to keep on building the skill of letting go.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)