Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mind Like Sail, Thoughts Like Wind

While the fruition of meditation is not something to be measured, it can be helpful to look back and see how far you've come.

Learning to meditate is like becoming the skipper of a sailboat. The boat represents your life. The hull is like your body that allows you to move around and do things. The winds are like your thoughts that fill the sails of your mind and push you from one destination or scenario to the next.

If you look around, the sea is filled with other sailing vessels. Most let the wind take them where it will. The sails fill up with any gust that arises so the journey through life is aimless and bewildering, since the destination is constantly changing.

Many people would really like to get somewhere. They just haven't learned how to operate the jib and the boom, how to lower the sails in a violent storm. Some boats glide along efficiently. They seem to effortlessly move toward a destination. I think we all want to be like that boat that sails effortlessly and purposefully.

When we practice mindfulness meditation, we are learning to operate the jib and the boom, to turn our sails in a direction that can harness the wind. We don't just take any wind, but we use what arises to propel us in the direction we want to go. In other words, when the fiery wind of anger arises, we don't just let it take us where it will. We develop awareness, which allows us to let go of those negative thoughts.

This metaphor obviously applies to the long journey that is our lives, and aspiring to a long-term course, which might be connecting, compassion or dissolving the ego, but we can also use the metaphor to think about how we are doing in the present moment.

Communicating well with other people was one of my original aspirations when I took up meditation practice seriously. I felt isolated from other individuals, like I was in a bubble. Meditation has helped me make incremental cuts in this illusory bubble.

I was a daydreamer, so I learned that listening is a practice, which requires mindfulness to cut through the haze. I might not always be a great listener yet, but when I decide to set my mind on it, I can hold my attention on someone's words for much longer than I used to.

I'm more often able to focus on what they are telling me without my ego busting in and breaking up the conversation. I'm not sure I could do this with much skill before. Even now, when I'm not present, my ego still runs the show, so it is important to keep practicing.

Returning to the metaphor of a sailboat, listening requires us to open our minds, as if our minds were sails. We let the other person's words be the wind and then we move alongside that person, smoothly, effortlessly. In this way, our minds and bodies become synchronized.

I find it helpful to set my intention when it is time to listen. I say, "now I am placing my mind on what this person is telling me." I then try to hear the words and the meaning without judgement. I try not to think of what I'm going to say next. I resist the urge to say my part too soon.

The winds are often made of wild emotions and external events. But in playing with this metaphor I started wondering if it is possible to create your own wind. When I set my intention or my aspiration, I wonder if I am actually creating my own wind. Or maybe the wind is something greater. I' haven't figured that part out, so let me know if you have any insight into it!

This post was originally published at the Interdependence Project, here.

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