“If you wish to not to have your mind occupied with distracted thoughts, you must allow it to be so occupied.” – Dahui
When I first started meditating, it was very much about not having my mind being occupied with distracted thoughts. I remember one technique we were taught was to imagine the distracting thought residing in our heart and to imagine plunging a Tibetan phurba, a three sided ritual dagger, into the thought and our heart.
The volume of distracting thoughts that I was attempting to deal with using that technique led to something resembling a game of whack-a-mole, as soon as I plunged the dagger into one, another popped up. Eventually, just trying to keep up with the thoughts that needed to be dealt with became a point of focus and that helped with not getting caught up in the thoughts themselves. But, it set up an adversarial relationship between me and myself.
When I encountered Zen, I appreciated the lack of direction about what to do with my thoughts. What I understood I was to do was to observe my mind and get familiar with it, not to control it. So I did. I spent many 7-day retreats observing my mind being occupied with distracted thoughts. I sometimes felt like I was indulging myself, or even cheating, as I sat and watched hour after hour as my mind did what it did. I didn’t try to bring my mind back to anything, I didn’t try to do anything except keep watching as my thoughts unfurled. Gradually, I got tired of watching reruns of my life, or reruns of fantasies of what my life might be and as my interest in those thoughts waned, so did the number of thoughts I noticed. I heard lots of instruction about making my being a mass of this or that, becoming totally absorbed in this or that, but that felt much like the phurba plunging techniques that had given me some relief from my thoughts, but which also had a cost.
The cost was a loss of spontaneity and aliveness and I noticed that I wasn’t willing to continue paying that cost. It takes trust to not try to change the thing you want to change.
Trust based on the experience of trying to change what is and noticing that it results in adding another layer of what I want to change. Ultimately, the trust is based on the experience that we have, from time to time and in large and small ways, that nothing has to change for things to change. Dahui would call that trust in our awakened nature, trust in the fact that we are awake from the beginning, that being awake is innate to our being.