During my recent 2-week break I came to realise some of the unexamined thoughts that I carry around that adversely affect my mood and behaviour. For example, I have this thought floating around that I am not giving enough time to my work, and an accompanying feeling of guilt. As a result I tend to worry about not having enough time to do things and I get speedy and stressed. So I decided to examine this thought by keeping a detailed daily schedule for a week. Each morning this week I have started by filling in the day’s calendar sheet on my computer with all the events I know of, including meals, for example, and then printing it out. I can now clearly see how much time I have available and I then think about and write down the tasks I want to achieve today.
I know this is pretty basic time management, but within a couple of days I felt noticeably more relaxed and confident because I could see that I was making good use of my time, and the act of keeping the daily calendar sheet was helping me to be more focused. So my point here is not that it is good to keep a daily plan, but that by consciously choosing to examine my thought I have been able to see that it was not accurate, and the thought and related uneasiness are gone.
This leads me on to reflect on our attitude to thought in formal meditation. In our tradition of Buddhism we teach letting go of discursive thought in meditation, but I think it is easy to make the mistake of turning away from thought with a feeling that it is something unwelcome, to be got rid of.
So it is an ongoing exploration for me as to what this letting go actually is. Is letting go something that I do? And if I let go of a thought is it then gone? So far, the answer to both of these questions seems to be no. It feels like the thought lets go of me. This happens when I shine the light of my attention on it. That is the only thing that I could say I actively do. And sometimes the thought will dissolve, but other times it will develop and I may see what’s underneath it, as it were. But it is let go in that my relationship to it has changed. I have ceased trying to control my mental experience and a trust arises that there is Something Else at work here. I do not need to find a way to control my thought – I just need to pay attention!