There is an intimacy with the mind (consciousness, thoughts, feelings, emotions) that I have gained from practicing vipassana meditation. In that intimacy an understanding was developed of just how frequently the mind goes negative, producing thoughts that constrict me and put a wall around my heart. I experienced these walls physically, with a heaviness, tightness and tension in my body.
Continuous practice gave me a deeper intimacy. I came to see that my mind is full of thoughts that I would rather not have. Thoughts that don’t produce anything useful but do make me feel stressed. Thoughts of self doubt or self loathing, thoughts of imagining future worst case scenarios, judging thoughts of myself or others, thoughts of unworthiness, anxious thoughts, depressing thoughts and so on.
I wake in the middle of the night, my mind goes to a loved one who is suffering a health crisis and then my mind will think about all the terrible things that could happen to him. In that moment, I experience the imagined events as if they are actually happening. And so, I practice. I bring awareness to those thoughts, see them for the fabrications that they are and let them pass. I would land back in reality and the comfort of my bed and watch my breath. And with practice, more often than not, I am able to go back to sleep peacefully.
In my practice I eventually came to understand that this negativity of the mind is universal. I am not alone in that experience. And I began to have an objective awareness of my thoughts, not seeing them as “I, me or mine” but rather as visitors, to be believed only upon investigation of their helpfulness. I learned to let go of the tricksters in the mind. And eventually they began to visit me less. And when they do visit, they aren’t believed and so they are less destructive. In the absence of the afflictive thoughts the heart/mind is spacious, pliant, joyful and peaceful.
This is the potential in all human beings. It is our purpose in life to discover this potential. Don’t delay your happiness. Or as the great Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Happiness is available, please help yourself to it.” May everyone experience that highest kind of happiness and peace and the freedom from all afflictive thoughts.
Melissa McKay began meditating in 1998 with Barbara Janus who introduced her to the teachings of Sayadaw U Pandita of Burma. She practiced with Sayadaw and his monks at centers in the U.S. and Burma and then met Bhante Khippa Pano of Vietnam in 2000 who became her main teacher. Bhante gave her permission to teach, and since 2003 she has taught at centers all over the United States.
Melissa is teaching Freeing the Heart: A Weekend Metta Retreat, an in-person 2-night retreat starting Friday, May 26, 2023 located at Benedict Canyon Retreat House.
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