Prone to a little anxiety?

Here's the opening few minutes of a talk in which Ken McLeod shared his favourite meditation practice, a variation on the "back door instructions," Body like a mountain, Breath like the Wind, Mind like the sky.

Bothered by thoughts (from MSS: Mountain, Sea, Sky 00:00:00.00 - 0:04:58.20)

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The first thing I want to say about meditation is that, there are many different kinds. And I am going to talk this evening, and lead you through a process in the approach to meditation practice, that I personally have found most fruitful. So this is a very prejudiced talk right from the beginning. And I have been exposed to a lot of different meditation practices, in my training, I have probably received training in about 150 to 200, somewhere around there. I have never counted. And one of the things that screwed me up for a very, very long time was the idea of trying to get somewhere. How many of you practice with the idea of trying to get somewhere?

Well there's two or three honest people in the room. We all do, we all come with that. And what I have found, is what we are doing in meditation, is practicing, and I really want to emphasize that word: is practicing a different way of experiencing life. Let me say that again. We're practicing a different way of experiencing life. Now, the reason I want to emphasize the word practice, is because when we are practicing something, we're allowed to fail. We don’t have to do it perfectly, because we are practicing.

How many of you play a musical instrument? Okay, how many of you have practiced scales? Okay. And when you are practicing scales, how upset do you get when you make a mistake. Anybody? It’s not the end of the world, is it? Because you are practicing. You make a mistake, you do it again, and you learn by it. And this is what we're doing in meditation. It isn’t about being perfect, at all. It’s about practicing.

Now, the second piece I want to focus on is a different way of experiencing life. Now: how many of you, when you practice meditation, are bothered by thoughts? Ah, a lot more honest people in the room now, I like that. Okay. There is an eleventh-century teacher in Tibet, who is very famous. His name is Gampopa. And he once said, “I have this student who meditates in the mountains. And he keeps practicing trying to have no thoughts. If he’s stopped trying to get rid of thoughts, he would have been enlightened years ago. But he keeps trying to get rid of all the thoughts.”

And another teacher, this is a contemporary teacher, a person on the East Coast, Gunaratana. He says, “Thoughts are to the mind, what sweat is to the body!” We have thoughts. Thoughts are not the problem. That’s one of the things I want to get across to you. What the problem is, is thinking. Thoughts are like leaves in the wind. Thinking is like chasing the leaves. So there’s a difference. There’s no problem about leaves in the wind. It doesn’t interfere with you walking at all. But if you chase them, then you have a big problem. Because the are going all over the place and you get very confused and disorientated. Which is exactly what happens when we fall into thinking when we meditate. So, thoughts are not the problem, thinking, may be.

So, how do we step out? And that’s the first difference in this different way of relating to the world, different way of experiencing the world. How many of you spend a good bit of your time, thinking? How many of you are prone to a little anxiety? Okay, you spend all your time thinking! Because that’s what anxiety is. It’s thinking about this and thinking about that. So, is there a way of experiencing the world, without thinking? Not getting rid of thoughts necessarily, but just without thinking. That’s what I want to explore with you this evening.
(Thanks to Tracy Ormond for the transcribing)