Jason OConnor meditating by a riverFor a few years now I have been meditating, sometimes five days in a row and other times once a week. But I have kept up with it and I recommend it to any person reading this. I practice insight meditation. This involves sitting upright and concentrating on an anchor, such as your in-breath and out-breath. When a thought arises, which happens every second it seems, I gently label the thought and let it pass through me till I can go back to concentrating on my breathing.

Sometime my label will be “thinking”. I’ll catch myself lost in thought and realize that I have drifted from my anchor of breathing and say to myself in a non-judgmental way, “thinking”, and then go back to the breath.  Other times my labels will be more specific such as “self-denigrating”, “arguing” or “analyzing”. I have a top five that repeatedly and relentlessly pop into my head, without warning and without invitation.

Over time, this way of meditating for me has become a little more sophisticated. Since I am a visual person, I have found that if I imagine myself in the third person sitting by a river, watching theses thoughts float by, I don’t get as easily stuck on any given thought that comes. And this is one of the goals of insight meditation, to not get stuck in, or identify with your fleeting thoughts.

This particular mindfulness practice involves me becoming the ‘witness’ of a person named Jason OConnor sitting by a river. I the ‘watcher’ or ‘witness’ am about 15 feet behind and above Jason, who is sitting crossed-leg on a river bank watching the river, and the thoughts borne on the river, flow by at a stately pace from right to left. Each thought attaches itself to Jason as it goes by. In my mind’s eye I see Jason package each attached thought up, place it on a simple wooden raft, and kick it down the river. Immediately afterwards there is peace and no-thought once again. Temporarily.

A little ways down the river there is a waterfall. After being kicked, the raft and it’s freight of thought violently fall down the waterfall. Of course that’s not the end of it. Thoughts have a way of returning again, and again, and again.

In Escher-like fashion my imaginary river is a loop that eventually returns back to me. When the same thought arises again, I the ‘watcher’ or ‘witness’ again see Jason repeat placing the thought on a raft and kicking it down the river.

This particular practice has greatly helped my meditation and my ability to avoid identifying with my thoughts.  It helps me be more mindful in my day-to-day life. If any of this interests you and you would like to learn more, here are some of my favorite teachers/authors/gurus/Buddhists:

  • Rick Hanson
  • Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Ronald D. Siegel
  • Jack Cornfield
  • Pema Chodron
  • Eckart Tolle
  • Alan W. Watts
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Chogyam Trungpa