Being a ticket taker with your thoughts
Swami J's Newsletter
August 22, 2001
In dealing with the conscious mind there is a suggestion to let the
thoughts flow without interruption. However, there is something that
comes first, before we can neutrally witness the entire stream of
First we need to practice with individual thoughts, consciously
practicing allowing some single thought to arise, just so we can
observe the way in which it naturally drifts away, returning to the
still, silent place from which it arose.
There is a strong temptation to just block all of the thoughts by
focusing on some object, or by chanting a mantra. This is a serious
mistake for a meditator to make. It puts a veil, or maybe better to
say a wall between our conscious state and the deeper parts of our
being, including the bliss we are seeking and the center of
consciousness. What can start out as an effort to meditate ends up
just another method of suppressing thoughts and emotions, and this is
definitely not useful.
What we want to do here is to sit quietly, breath smoothly, and then
from within our mind field, intentionally allow some random thought
impression to arise. Usually what happens is that we don't even
notice these single impressions come up, and then we get caught in a
long train of thinking process. Next thing we know, we have a
Here, we want to catch the thought, spot it, or detect it as it
arises. This is actually quite fascinating to notice the way in which
a single thought pattern breaks through from the unconscious into our
conscious field. The object may be something very simple and mundane,
such as a piece of fruit, some object around your house, or a scenic
view you saw some time ago. It does not matter what the object is--
just allow the image to arise on its own. Also, it does not matter
whether you literally "see" with your inner eye or not. Whether
you "see" or do not "see" with your inner eye, you still are well
aware of what images or impressions are arising.
The next part, which is quite intriguing to observe is in allowing
that thought to go, letting it drift right back to the silent, still
place from which it arose in the first place. This is not some
complicated meditation practice. Anyone can do this, and will gain
tremendous insight from the practice, if done regularly as a
foundation practice of meditation. You will come to see that if we
allow it, it is quite natural for these thought patterns to do two
things: 1) It is natural for them to arise, and 2) It is natural for
them to gently fall back to the place from which they arose.
What usually happens is that we engage that single thought pattern
and turn it into a whole train of thought patterns, as if we are all
Hollywood movie producers in our mental stage. That single impression
arises, and then off we go! More and more thought impressions get
drawn into the drama, and along comes our emotional reactions as
well. (Here, we are not being critical of thoughts and emotions and
their exploration. These can definitely have a useful place as
adjuncts to meditation, but here we are talking of a specific
practice related to meditation.) With a little experimentation we can
learn that it really is easy to just let the thought drift away, and
not turn into a movie. This letting go is a skill unto itself.
Learning to literally let go of a thought is far superior to some
technique of getting rid of it.
Imagine that you are a ticket taker at a theater, and that there is a
long line of people coming into the theater. What do you do as a
ticket taker? Is it not true that when a person comes to hand you
their ticket, you greet them in a friendly way? You are open to them,
and acknowledge them with a gesture, a few words, or maybe both. But
how do you get them to go on into the theater? Or, for that matter,
do you need to do anything to get them to go into the theater? Isn't
it true that they will generally just go on into the theater on their
So what is the action that you would naturally do as a ticket taker,
when you have just taken the last persons ticket? Wouldn't you turn
to the next person in line, and maybe say "Next!" as you greeted,
accepted, and acknowledged that person as well? The previous person
will just move on, automatically. This is exactly what we can do with
those individual thoughts standing in line to come forward into
consciousness when we sit for meditation.
To have an attitude of quieting thoughts by stopping them would be
like stopping the line of theatergoers from coming in the door. They
might get pretty upset and start to cause trouble. Instead of having
the attitude of getting rid of thoughts, have an attitude of inviting
them to come, "Next... Next... Next..." Then let them go by.
This literally can be practiced, one individual thought at a time.
This can be done without having an object on which you are
meditating. You just sit there and invite the thoughts, one at a
time, to come forward, so that you can observe them come, and can
then observe the beautiful way in which they go, on their own.
Or, the practice can be done while at the same time remembering your
object on which you are trying to focus for meditation, whether that
be breath, an internal image, or a mantra.
In loving service,