Saturday, May 22, 2010

Welcoming the Guests

I have heard it said that during vipassana practice, the mind is like the host of a gathering. Indeed, the bell that I ring at the beginning of a practice can serve as a kind of doorbell, signaling the arrival of the "party" guests. 

One reason why we meditate in this way is to be available for everything that arises (or arrives) during our practice. Most of the guests arrive uninvited and unbidden. All, however, must be welcomed and allowed to sit with us. These guests would include sensations in the body, sounds, emotional sensations, and so forth. I would say that the most difficult guests would have to be thoughts. They arrive whether we want them to be there or not. Sometimes our thoughts are pleasant or insightful, and these can be very exciting guests to have at our gathering, providing plenty of stimulating conversation. Often times they are not so pleasant, and act boorish and ill-tempered as they repeat the same dysfunctional refrains over and over again. Yet, we must do the best we can to include these guests as well, no matter how rude they are.

And so we sit with these guests - the good, the bad, and the boring - and listen to their conversations with each other like the babble at a cocktail party. As we listen, we can begin to see that thoughts are just events that arise, abide for a time, then subside. All the mental guests will leave, eventually, although some may not get the hint and will hang on until well after the dishes are done, the leftovers are put away, and you've changed into your pajamas. These are the guests that we can learn so much from in terms of the habitual workings of our mind. By getting to know them a little better, we can begin to see how they are merely thoughts, and not facts, and that they are not even us. We can learn that we don't need to identify with them so much, and that we don't have to listen to them or follow their advice, just be aware of them and let them be.


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