Modicae Fidei

May 12, 2012 Comments Off on Modicae Fidei

I’ve been crushing on this one yoga teacher who uses class to preach fascinating philosophy in her floaty Russian accent—although, so sad, she has gone back to Russia for the summer—and one of her recent themes was based on recognizing yourself as the Observer and not as your thoughts, not as your emotions. She said that emotions and thoughts trouble the surface of the water, and so your reflection may be distorted, but you are not distorted. So, she suggested, instead of saying, “I am angry,” you should say, “This is anger.” I’ve tried it and it actually helps a little. “You are not your emotions,” she said. “You are not your thoughts.”

And of course meditation is all about emptying your mind of thoughts. When a thought comes along, you are supposed to gently recognize that you are thinking and bring your mind back to stillness. I’ve had success with images of me as a scuba diver hanging out by a reef as giant thought-submarines pass me by, and of me as Jesus calming the water (quid timidi estis, modicae fidei?). In fact, I’ve had such success in this teacher’s class that I’m pretty upset she’s going to be gone. But…hang on, I am not my thoughts?

I’ve always liked my thoughts; I think they reflect qualities that I mostly like about myself and I like that I’m a thinker. And I feel like I haven’t accomplished much at all aside from cool ideas for books and so forth. The idea that my thoughts are not me is unsettling because I feel that there’s very little else. Who am I? Am I my self? What is a self?

And then I have one of those moments of shame when I contemplate consciously returning to a comforting illusion. There isn’t much I can’t face about myself, and when I find something it can be jarring. Of course, when you get into philosophy you can decide that you don’t buy into whatever school because it’s so abstract there is no verifiable right answer. But…I’ve heard this “no thoughts” thing a lot, and when I’ve experienced good meditation the results have made me happy. So I’m at least willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

But if you don’t have thoughts, how do you think? Thinking is important to me. Sometimes it takes the form of entertainment, but more often it is the easiest way to satisfy my obsessive-compulsive moments; if I can untangle and re-tangle an entire plot in my head, it means I won’t have to go copy out poems longhand or go catalog every book I own. Once, soon after I started yoga, I went for a walk with the intention of holding a still mind and being present for the entire thing…but these endeavors  raised interesting questions in my mind, and I became fascinated with the philosophical ideas that were passing through my head—that I was producing, I still think—and I rarely have deep philosophical insights, but I was on a roll, and I gave up on “meditation” and…meditated. How do you have a philosophy, anyway, if you’ve never sat for hours and pondered it? How much meditation is a good thing? I need to learn more about this, but outside of class I have a hard time making myself meditate for very long—not because it’s hard, although it is, but because the idea of losing my thinking seems like a scary sacrifice to be making. Like if someone suggested you give up your legs, because wheels are pretty awesome. No matter what arguments they presented, you’d still hesitate, thinking, But these are my legs!

And there we are. I guess my legs aren’t really my Self either…but I’m attached to them anyway, and for what I think are good reasons. Maybe, in the way that there is as much to do without your legs as there is with them (spoken like someone who likes to read and sing and write), there is as much to do without your thoughts as there is to do with them. In which case, I’m game to find out more. But I can’t give up my thoughts altogether, anymore than I could give up my legs altogether, because down that path lies madness. Either way I would end up a basket case!


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