By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
*This is the third installment of Gerry Stribling’s “Freedom from Fear” series, exclusively for The Tattooed Buddha
Even the most profound thinkers go nuts if they can’t get their minds off things.
It’s why President Herbert Hoover used to go fly-fishing in a suit and tie.
As you teach yourself that the majority of your thoughts are ephemeral brain farts that can be dismissed as annoyances rather than acting emotionally on them (recall “beating yourself up” in the last section), you have begun the process of objectifying and observing your thoughts. It’s the first baby step to enlightenment, or at least fearlessness.
Count your breaths: In-out-one, in-out-two, oh, oh, I had the briefest thought: why do women on TV always have on matching bra and panties sets when they’re caught in their underwear? Oops! Ahem, in-out-one, in-out-two…
The ratio of random thoughts to important thoughts is probably about 15,000,000 to 1, even if you exclude the smutty ones. As you learn to meditate, you learn to appreciate a less cluttered stream of consciousness; it’s like hacking your way through the jungle. This ability is so appealing that you notice it spilling over into your non-meditating life.
That’s mindfulness, and it’s very good for you.
Getting out of your head isn’t easy. Ultimately (to become fearless) you end up meditating on the relative value of your ego versus what you can accomplish on behalf of others. These are natural conclusions to come to through Buddhist practice. It helps things along to become aware of Buddhist ethics, one of which is to strengthen your mind through meditation. It’s a vicious circle.
We’re Buddhists. Do not confuse our serenity with timidity. This is the ultimate goal: to become fearless enough to be laid back no matter what. It’s called equanimity.
But right now, it’s important to quiet your mind. You can’t accomplish doodly-squat if you don’t have a quiet mind.
So when the inevitable thoughts come, visualize them as bubbles. Not the big fat lazy ones you blow when you’re a kid, more like bubbles rising to the surface of your favorite carbonated beverage. They’re the perfect metaphor: thoughts arise, they pop, and then they cease to exist. An important Buddhist theme is that of impermanence. Breaths, thoughts, moods, lives, mountains, stars, and galaxies all arise and fall. What makes you so special?
The knowledge that accompanies and makes possible insight (Vipassana) meditation isn’t that hard, and don’t let anybody tell you that it is. All this knowledge consists of, is advice about how to purify your mind, live in ethical harmony, and find happiness in compassion. Once you have an awareness of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know, your meditation surpasses mere stress relief to include the appreciation of truths that make you free from fear.
Ultimately, what does that mean?
It means that strong mind and enlightened perspective frees you from the problem you started with when you learned how to use meditation to relax—stress. You can start with alleviating the stress of waiting for your daughter to get home from her first boy-girl dance, and you can evolve into someone who can face your own long, painful, horrible death with objectivity and grace. Nothing should be stressful to enlightened people.
Annnnnnnnnnnnd, the way to achieve that is though meditative practice—including yoga. Yoga is meditation for people who can’t sit still, like any mindless repetitive thing such as playing sports. Or watching sports.
But not all random thoughts are inconsequential, are they? So many of these thoughts involve painful memories. As you’ll read in the next section, you learn to deal with the big ones by dealing with the little ones first—the bubbles rising in the glass.
That’s when I like to switch analogies over to blasting clay pigeons with a 12-gauge.
Editor: Dana Gornall