This month's theme, Reflection, led me to reflect, on
reflection. For me, the best tool for reflection is analytical mediation, an
approach in Tibetan Buddhism. I bumped into applications of this practice when,
forty years ago, I read Time,
Space and Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku, a
Nyingmapa lama. Over the next twenty years I used is TSK books in my classes
and wrote six book chapters relating to its ideas. I found it intriguing,
illuminating, instructive and challenging. I share this approach to reflection
should you want to try it.
The process of analytical meditation is to bring something
to mind. It could be a word, a picture, a sound, a sensation -- anything that
could arise in mind. Observe without judgement or emotion. If judgement or
emotion arise, observe them, then return to your original mental focus, and
continue observing. There are many reasons to do this. Our beliefs and
thoughts can be limiting and trap us, without our being aware. Sometimes our
thoughts create a mental prison and we see no way out. This process can help
free us, and, in doing that, opens up other possibilities not just for thought
but action. So one goal is to get free and to have more options. Here is an example.
asked me if I could provide an example of what I'm describing. At that moment,
nothing came to mind. ďIím blank,Ē I said. I felt frustration and dismay at
having nothing, when this is a process I've done a gazillion times. Next, I
felt inadequate. And after that, I said to myself "I failed." Then
"Iím a failure" came to mind. At that point, I decided to engage in
analytical meditation on the sentence ďIím a failure.Ē
"I am a failure" to mind and observe it. I remember that there was a sequence of
thoughts. "I failed" preceded the self-label "Iím a
failure." I continue to observe the sequence of thoughts and notice that
"I failed" was in response to being blank, nothing coming to mind. I
notice that "Iím a failure" and "being blank" are not the
same. The thought "Iím a
failure" begins to fade. Because I have no thoughts, does that make me a
failure? "No thoughts" means only that I have no thoughts at this
moment. As I continue observing, I now have many thoughts. And, even though at
first I was blank, thoughts have been coming since I started this analysis. The
words "Iím a failure" connect to nothing. Had I not opened up the
thought "Iím a failure," I might have carried it with me and felt
sad, worthless, or depressed. Previously I felt constrained and locked up; now
I find inner freedom, flexibility and creativity.
function, internally as a person and externally in the world, derives from
mental constructs. We can increase our satisfaction, effectiveness and control
by loosening what confines us.
are many approaches to analytical meditation that focus on numerous features of
the mental object. If you want to know more about this, send me an email and
Iíll respond with a list of books. Following are some brief examples of some of
these other approaches.
Here is the first
approach. Bring up a mental object, which could be a thought, such as
"reflection". Bring it to mind again. And then do it again and again.
Keep going. When I do this, a cascade of associations arise: a mirror, a mirror
in which I see myself, two mirrors
reflecting to infinity, self-questioning, and on and on. Observe the mind's
response each time. Eventually the web of interconnected meanings unravels.
Here is a second
approach which is more actively
analytical. Hold the mental object in mind and repeatedly analyze it in all of
its possible dimensions, meanings, and occurrences. When I do this, I might
analyze "reflection" in various ways: light bounces off a surface, I
only "see" myself when I look in a mirror, without light I am not
there, different light shows me in different ways, and so on.
Here is a third
approach. Think a thought, for example, "reflection." Next remember
having just thought "reflection." Then remember that prior
remembering. Keep remembering what you just remembered. Why on earth would you
do this? Consider the following: all thoughts arise from memory. This process
begins to point at how we have thoughts and the source of their meaning.
Here is a fourth approach. Focus on one aspect of mental objects such as
their space, clarity, color, or location. I'll select three different aspects:
what, how, and who.
One: The what of a
thought. I can notice
"reflection", the thought, as a static concept. When I bring it to
mind what is it? Is it always the same? Does it come to mind as a meaning
without content? As a sound? As letters? As a picture? Keep observing what the thought is.
Two: The how of a
thought. Watch the process of thinking. How does "reflection" come
into mind. Before I think it, where is it? Does it arise in fragments or fully
formed? Before "reflection" has come to mind and I am intending to
think it, is "reflection" already in mind? Continue noticing how
reflection comes to mind.
Three: The who of a
thought. Observe the thinker. How do YOU think the thought
"reflection"? Notice the observer of that thought. How does the
intention to think "reflection" arise? Consider the observer, the
thinker and the intender? Are they the same? Do they present differently? From
the same mental location? Continue observing the thinker.
If you try this,
settle your mind first, and then keep going, working up to more than fifteen
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