The Taste vs. the Reality by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (extract)
- "So you've got to keep a perspective on your thoughts, on the stories you like to tell even about your own practice. We're here to train the mind, and part of training the mind involves doing things over and over and over again: pulling the mind away from distraction over and over again, keeping the mind with its object over and over again, taking a skill that you develop while you're meditating and learning to apply it in daily life over and over again. That may not be exciting or compelling, and the mind will have a tendency to rebel sometimes, but you have to ask yourself when you're rebelling, "Where are you going?" If you think of dream worlds or pleasant worlds where you could be right now, ask yourself, "What would it actually be like to be there?"
There's a great story in Ajaan Lee's autobiography where he tires of being a monk and starts thinking about disrobing. So one night he decides to think seriously about disrobing: what's actually going to happen, what it's really going to be like. He starts out with a story that sounds pretty good. He gets a job and then a raise in pay. He's doing pretty well so well that he decides he wants the daughter of a nobleman for his wife. That, in reality, would have been pretty unlikely. Ajaan Lee was the son of a peasant in the northeast. It's very unlikely that he would have gotten anywhere near the daughter of a nobleman. But he was able to contrive a story whereby he actually meets one, and she gets attracted to him, and they end up getting married.
That's when reality sets in. The daughter of a nobleman is probably very delicately brought up, yet for the family to survive she would have to work. So she gets a job, and she has a child, but with the stresses of work and pregnancy she dies soon after childbirth. He's left with the kid, and her parents want nothing to do with him. So he hires a woman to be the wet nurse. At first, she's good with the kid, and after a while she works herself into his affections. They eventually get married. But then she has her own child and she starts playing favorites. That's when it gets really bad. He comes home from work at night and the mother has one version of the day's events, the first child has another version, and the second child has still another version of the story. They're all fighting. Ajaan Lee feels like he's being pulled in three different directions. He thinks to himself, "Boy, I wish I were back as a monk." Then he realizes, "Of course, I'm still a monk." That puts the issue of disrobing in a different light. In other words, he talked himself out of doing something foolish by allowing his dreams of disrobing to get real.
So this is one way of dealing with the allure of distracting thoughts. Ask yourself, "If I really lived in that situation, what would it be like? What would the constraints of that situation be?" When you think of the different worlds you could be going to, the worlds of lay life, the worlds of being a monk in the forest in Thailand: While you're thinking of those worlds, they seem like open opportunities. But you have to realize that each of those worlds has its constraints, its constrictions. And the taste of the thought is very different from the actual emotion of being there.
So if a particular thought is really beguiling, ask yourself what it would really be like to go to that particular state of being. You'd probably find yourself wishing you had some quiet time to be by yourself. But here you already have quiet time to be by yourself, so make the most of it. If thoughts of boredom come up, question those thoughts."
For Free Distribution, as a gift of Dhamma, from Access to Insight and Thanissaro Bhikkhu
With metta / Antony.