“Stop thinking,” John told himself.
He could not recall how many times during the past hour he had said so to himself. This was his first meditation class and he had been struggling with his own mind since the very beginning of the meditation exercise the teacher led the class to do. As a professor of philosophy at one of the best universities in the world, John had been busy teaching students theories of rational logic behind things in the cosmos without any doubt about the rationality of the producer of the theories, the mind of the thinkers.
A few months ago he started to suffer from the symptom of continuous fatigue and could no longer enjoy the energy and mental focus which had helped him to achieve what he had felt proud of so far. Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the prescription given by his physician for the past months, he finally came to this meditation school following a commercial on the classified section of the local news paper.
Human head has been a wonderful harmonic machine to John, from which complicated views reflecting the most difficult truths of the world are generated in a consistent manner. Only after he started his first meditation exercise did he realize that his own head was not working as cohesively as he had thought. Instead he found his own mind was more like a symphony of busy thoughts but he was not sure who the director was. At least, as he knew, the director was not himself as the supposed subject host.
Out of his professional habit, John felt very curious about this wonderful inner world of his own which he had not paid much attention to before. He sensed a strong urge from the bottom of his heart to find more about this mysterious world.
The first sign of disharmony of mind that caught John’s attention was the unwanted free ideas popped up during the meditation. Before he even came to the meditation school, he had learned that meditation could help people to become more peaceful in mind and heart, which was what John wanted most after years of stressful teaching and book writing life. So he came to the meditation class with a high expectation of getting himself a peaceful mind in that small classroom.
But after he started his first meditation exercise, he realized that getting a peaceful mind was not an easy job even at that special room with the meditation master teaching how to do it, and the biggest problem was that every time once he calmed himself down and set for meditation, some ideas came up in his mind.
It was so easy for John to get excited about those ideas whenever they popped up. He simply followed every single idea into some complicated thought until he realized that it was the meditation class. Each time he found himself slipped away into some busy thought he told himself, “Stop thinking.” But once he stopped one thought, another idea came up and he just went with the new idea into another complicated thought again.
After the two hour class, other students were all getting together sharing their enjoyable experience during meditation. But John did not join the discussion because he felt more exhausted than after a normal day work.
That night, before he went to sleep, he sat quietly in the study room trying to review what was taught by the teacher in the meditation class. Learning from his failure in the class, he made himself a resolution that he would not follow those ideas any more. But the ideas still kept popping up so that he had to force them out with a strong intention whenever he was aware of an idea coming up. With such a stressful mental struggle, it did not take very long for John to get a headache so that he had to stop the exercise for that night. He needed a pill for his headache before he went to bed.
The second day he took a day off from his job and came to see the meditation teacher seeking for help. After listened to John’s story, the teacher smiled and said to him, “You should neither be nervous nor excited about those popped up ideas during meditation. The best trick to handle that problem is to gently let the ideas skim through your mind.” The teacher asked him to sit down, and led him to go through the exercise again. John had always been a very quick learner and this time he followed the trick the teacher told him and felt headache no more.
After he left from the meditation school, John called his graduate student Mary to ask her if she could be his substitute for one week. Mary was so happy to have this great opportunity and agreed right away. For the rest of the week, John had himself lost in the biggest library of his university from early morning till late evening. He tried to find as many books on meditation as possible, plus all kinds of literatures of psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, cognitive science, and even artificial intelligence. He started each day with a meditation and then buried himself in the literatures trying to figure out what is going on in his mind during meditation.
Several days passed, he still could not get the answer he was looking for from the literatures. At the end of the week, disappointed by his own endeavor, he left the library early in the afternoon. When he got his home, he turned on the TV.
All of a sudden he sensed a click in his mind. He picked up the remote and kept surfing through the channels until he tasted enough enjoyment from his new enlightenment. Yes, he told himself, “This is the answer. Our mind works in a way similar to the TV shows”.
As a nowadays knowledgeable person, anyone of us knows that TV is just an apparatus that receives signals from all the broadcasting stations and then presents the shows to us on the screen. We are just too smart to consider the TV set as a magic box bringing up whatever cooked from inside.
But it was exactly that kind of out-of-date childish imagination that enlightened John. On his diary for that day John wrote the following paragraphs:
Our mind works like a TV in the sense that there is a production center which processes all kinds of information collected by various means and then generates all kinds of meanings which are then presented to us based on some kinds of rules. Some of the meanings are manifested as ideas, some as feelings, and some as emotional awareness or other desires. We as the subjective thinkers in much sense are just viewers of those presentations.
However, in order for that kind of presentation to grow into a meaningful thought, it needs our conscious attention to lead. Therefore, our conscious mind has the power to let an unwanted presentation to end fast by not feeding it with our attention to lead or by an intention not to join.
The information processed by this magic box is from many different sources. Some are collected by sensory faculties of our body, some are from memory system, and some are just from other newly produced output of mind.
John was so excited about this metaphysical discovery because it solved all the puzzles he had for the past week about what happened in his mind during meditation. With this new enlightenment John realized that there was nothing wrong with the occurrences of the ideas during meditation and they were the natural phenomena of mind for any awakened human being, as natural as the appearance of stars in the sky at a clear night. The reason why he got his headache when he was trying to drive the free ideas out of his head forcefully at the first night of practicing meditation, as he understood now, was simply because it was not natural to do so.
He picked up his phone and dialed the number of his meditation teacher. Over the phone, John shared with his teacher what he just found out about the mental activity during meditation. The teacher was also very happy to hear that and he told John, “I never thought in that way. It is very helpful to realize that. Now what is left for you to do is to get your mind more disciplined so that you could hold your mind not to follow the ideas when they come up. You might need some years of meditation practices to be good at controlling your own mind more efficiently.”
“You bet. I am definitely on it from now on” replied John.