Sunday, November 6, 2011

The "Touch and Go" Technique

At some point in meditation training, a teacher might suggest that the student use the "touch and go" technique. It was quite a few years ago when I first received this instruction, but I feel like I only understood it last week, during a weekend program with Acharya Christie Cashman.

Thoughts will come and thoughts will go. The issue is not that we have thoughts. The issue is our attachment to thoughts.

I've been told, "thoughts are to the mind what sight is to the eyes." In other words, you can think of your mind like you think of the senses. The eyes see sights, the ears hear sounds, and the mind hosts thoughts.

Meditation is not a "me versus thoughts" relationship. That would be like blaming your eyes for seeing something unpleasant.

Enter the "touch and go" technique. When a thought enters the mind, one need only touch the thought or maybe "taste" it. Know the thought, without letting the thought multiply. Playing with this last weekend, I came to realize that one very important skill we must develop in meditation is to learn to touch the thought just long enough that we feel it, and then allow it to naturally dissolve on its own. As Acharya Cashman said, "if you touch properly, it let's itself go."

The difficult part is not holding it too long, which is getting too attached. If I get too attached, the thought multiplies. The thought about someone I met in kindergarten turns into thoughts about what happened to him, what he's doing now, and how maybe I should have gone to medical school. Then I have to remind myself that I am focusing on the breath (or whatever is the object of that meditation).

Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about clearing your mind of thoughts. It is about learning not to be attached to your thoughts. You learn a special kind of gentleness when you can have a thought and let it go. Look at thoughts and then let them be. They will then dissolve on their own.

By developing this kind of relationship with your thoughts, those thoughts become less cloying and needy. They do not compete as much for your attention. You become increasingly able to let go of thoughts that mess you up, like anger, jealousy, lust, compulsive online shopping, etc.

You can develop greater mindfulness or concentration when your thoughts are not all having a battle for total domination of the mind. Your mind then gains greater clarity, allowing wisdom to arise.

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