Driving With The Backseat Driver
A question I receive often is, “What do I do with thinking during meditation?” Thinking is like a backseat driver. When we are driving a car, the backseat driver is always talking. This is the ongoing, habitual mind chatter that is happening in our head. Usually, we are following the voice of the backseat driver. “Turn right,” and we turn right. “Turn left,” and we turn left. Often what I see when someone begins a meditation practice is that they try to use the meditation practice to get rid of thinking. This is like telling the backseat driver to shut up. “Shut up!” The problem is, the backseat driver gets louder and stronger. We just end up with more thinking and more frustration.
If we practice meditation correctly, then we put all of our energy into this moment. We are responding to what is in front of us, not following this ongoing mind chatter. So the backseat driver says, “Turn left” and we say, “Thank you” and we turn right. When we practice meditation this way, the energy of the backseat driver, this ongoing chatter, will get quieter and softer. Though it may never completely fade away, it no longer controls us and we can focus on what we need to do right now in this moment.
During sitting meditation, let all thinking just come and go. Try not to push it away and try not to hold on to to it. Let it appear and disappear like clouds passing the sun. Hui-Neng who was the 6th patriarch of Zen once said, “When mind works freely without any hindrance and is at liberty to come and go, we attain liberation.” This means we can become free from our habitual thinking and live our life with more clarity and freedom.
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