Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking and feeling with a meditator’s mind

In case you’re worrying that meditation may stop you from thinking and feeling, here are a few helpful distinctions I picked up from one of my teachers, Jean Klein, author of Who Am I? and The Ease of Being.
Jean likes to distinguish between ordinary thought and creative thought; functional thought and psychological memory; and emotivity and emotion. (Although he teaches a direct approach to spiritual truth through self-inquiry rather than meditation, I’ve taken the liberty of applying his insights because I believe they’re also relevant to the practice of meditation.)
  • Ordinary thought versus creative thought: When your mind keeps churning out an endless series of thoughts linked together like boxcars on a train, with no spaces between them, you’re trapped by your own claustrophobic thinking process and don’t have any room for fresh, original thinking or problem solving. But when your mind is completely open and unfurnished, as Jean likes to say — a state of mind you can cultivate in meditation — you have plenty of inner space for creative thoughts to bubble up from their source in pure being. Unlike ordinary thoughts, these thoughts are completely appropriate to the situation at hand.
  • Psychological memory versus functional thinking: The more you meditate, the more you free your mind of psychological memory, which is the turbulent, obsessive, self-centered kind of thinking that’s generated by your stories and centers on the separate, fragmented person you imagine yourself to be. Instead, your thoughts become primarily functional, arising in response to circumstances and then stopping when they’re no longer required.
  • Emotivity versus emotion: Likewise, the powerful, disturbing emotions that sometimes seem to run your life — which Jean Klein calls emotivity — are actually rooted in your stories, not in reality, and have little in common with true emotion. Subtler than emotivity and rooted in love, true emotion arises naturally from being itself in response to situations where the illusory sense of separation has been diminished or dissolved through the practice of meditation — or some other spiritual practice like self-inquiry.

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