Breaking The Spell of Thought

“We spend our lives lost in thought. The question is, what should we make of this fact? In the West, the answer has been “Not much.” In the East, especially in contemplative traditions like those of Buddhism, being distracted by thought in understood to be the very wellspring of human suffering.

From the contemplative point of view, being lost in thoughts of any kind, pleasant or unpleasant, is analogous to being asleep and dreaming. It’s a mode of not knowing what is actually happening in the present moment. Thoughts themselves are not a problem, but being identified with thought is.

…The practice of meditaton is a method of breaking the spell of thought. However, in the beginning, you are unlikely to understand just how transformative this shift in attention can be. You will spend most of your time trying to meditate or imaging that you are meditating (whether by focusing on your breathing or anything else) and failing for minutes or hours at a stretch. The first sign of progress will be noticing how distracted you are. But if you persist in your practice, you will eventually get a taste of real concentration and begin to see thoughts themselves as mere appearances arising in a wider field of consciousness.” – Sam Harris, “Waking Up”

I found it extremely reassuring to read the paragraph above. I have almost always, in my forays into meditation, been painful conscious of how distracted I get, and how busy my thoughts are. There have been brief moments, particularly during many hours of meditation at the Buddhist Retreat Centre, when I could almost begin to sense the edges of letting thought drop away… but they felt like mere glimpses. It is encouraging to know that I – who has often pandered to my ego’s demand that I achieve highly at everything I choose to put my hand to – am neither failing more achieving, but am merely at the early stages of a life-long journey; and that doesn’t need to be anything other than exactly as it is.


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