Calvin the Wise
Calvin and Hobbes are such dharma jewels.
Interesting question here:
Is using the attentional control one develops through meditation to avoid thinking unpleasant thoughts some sort of dereliction of duty? Isn’t it irresponsible to focus only on things that bring us joy and peace? Doesn’t the world need us to engage the hard stuff too?
I’d argue that this question misses an important detail. Control of one’s attention is indeed an essential life skill, and one that is developed through a consistent meditation practice. But it’s at best half, and probably only a third, of the true package.
The first step in meditating is not actually a cognitive step, but an emotional one. We start with kindness. Meditation is difficult, and it’s imperative that we approach the endeavor with a gentle heart, because odds are that our minds will drift many, many times. If we cannot view our own struggle with love and compassion, we cannot hope to last long in our practice.
One of my favorite teachers, Andrea Fella, suggests that the attitude with which we approach our meditation is actually more important than the meditation itself. Having worked with hundreds of students and clients, and more directly with my own experience, I must agree. Cultivating attention without kindness is a cold path, and cultivating kindness without attention is a blind one.
Another important capacity here is discrimination. This is really an outcome of paying close attention, in a relaxed way, over time. It’s worth its own paragraph as it is perhaps the most tangible application of a trained mind. When our hearts are engaged and our minds are clear, we can discriminate between situations that we can and cannot affect through our efforts, and therefore make wise choices about which thoughts to entertain and which to let go.
If you’d like to experiment on yourself a bit, set a timer on your phone to go off 3 times a day. Each time it goes off, make a note about what you’re thinking, paying particular attention to the following:
Is your thinking motivated by loving-kindness?
Are your thoughts focused on something within your control?
Are your thoughts clear, stable, and relaxed?
Take care not to get down on yourself if you discover something unpleasant. We must become aware of imbalances before we can make efforts towards balance. In other words, be sure to be kind to yourself in your efforts to be kind to yourself!