By John Lee Pendall
As a self-proclaimed writer, a busy mind is kind of a job hazard.
Inner speech is always flowing, and always purposeful. Sometimes I get so involved in my mental chatter, that I can just tune out everything else for the whole day. Thinking is an addiction. Inner monologues, planning, discerning, analyzing, problem solving, comparing—these are highly habit-forming activities. I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, but nicotine doesn’t have shit on thought.
Creativity is addicting as well. It’s probably my greatest obsession. Well, besides the nagging fear that I’m constantly dying of an undiagnosed terminal illness, that is. I live to write, make music, and come up with new ways of viewing things. If I was any good on camera, I’d probably be vlogging 24/7.
Most of the things I make are about Buddhism, because Buddhism is awesome. It’s a fucking treasure trove for an overactive, imaginative, analytical mind. There’s so much to study, so many different insights and challenges to share from a thousand different angles. It’s my passion.
Unfortunately, that’s all besides the point; practice is a balancing act. Some teachers say that the busier and more complex the mind, the more complex the teachings and methods need to be. I’m not so sure about that. It may be a decent way to lure us into practicing, but once we’re through the door, I wonder if the opposite approach is better.
Giving a tranquil method to a tranquil mind, and a busy one to a busy mind, just seems to play into our preferences. It makes more sense to give the mind the opposite of what it wants until it no longer has a preference one way or the other.
At the end of the day, Buddhism is all about the wisdom of non-attachment. When it comes to that, our strengths are our weaknesses.
If I have a busy, analytical mind that finds insight and explosive release enjoyable, then I’m not gonna find balance by using methods that give me that. If I have a relatively calm, tranquil mind that enjoys the simple things in life, then I don’t need more tranquility—I need a swift kick in the ass.
There are basically two types of meditation: stop (samatha) and see (vipassana).
If you’re always going, you need to stop; if you’re always chilling out and spacing out, then you need to see. Then we can put them together. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m guessing most of us need samatha since busyness is a virtue in our culture. Instead of having mind-bending insights, most of us probably just need to chill out and fade into the flow.
The simplest (and most difficult) teaching is, “Shut the fuck up.” Stop creating things, stop telling stories, stop reading, stop trying to be the center of attention, stop trying to succeed, and stop trying to understand. That’s the teaching for a busy mind, and it’s extremely unpleasant.
It’s easy to see which views and methods we need to practice with. We just have to take an honest appraisal of ourselves, then practice the opposite of what suits us and study the teachings that don’t interest us. That’s counter-intuitive, kind of like giving a thirsty person a sandwich. But Buddhism isn’t about quenching our thirst or feeding our appetites, it points to rooting out that hunger and thirst altogether.
There will be a ridiculous amount of resistance. It’s not fun, it’s not rewarding, it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s effective. We send the warriors to sensitivity training, and send the sensitive to the battlefield.
If we armed fighters with flowers and bleeding hearts with swords, then this world would be a little bit closer to harmony. That’s my take on it anyway.
If you like vipassana or mindfulness practice, if it seems to fit you like a glove, then it’s probably helpful to practice samatha instead, and vice versa. If you hate koans and think they’re stupid, then koan meditation might be a great method for you. If you’re down-to-earth, you might need teachings that put your head in the clouds; if you’re a modern day mystic, then you might need a healthy dose of pragmatism.
We’re not going to progress with our practice if we only do the things we want to do or study the things we want to study. That’s the whole fucking problem that Buddhism addresses.
For me, that means shutting up. I’d love to read and write all day, and get that rush of working with a gong-an, so that means I probably shouldn’t do that. I need to take a day and just do nothing. No writing, no music, no reading, no self-inquiry or pondering the nature of existence, and no mindfulness. Fuck, that sounds awful. That’s why it’s helpful.
I’m a fighter, so that means I need flowers. I’m complicated, so I need simple. I love Buddhism, that means I need to stop thinking about it. I like control, so I need to let go. Thus begins my week-long writing fast.
This is going to suck.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, and his blog "Salty Dharma".