“You are not your thoughts,” my yoga instructor said as she told us to clear our minds and prepare for savasana at the end of class. Her statement made no sense. If I’m not my thoughts, what am I? My mind is my individuality. What else is there? My instructor pointed out that most of us don’t have hundreds of thoughts in a day. We have a few thoughts over and over.
She was right. What I was attached to as my thoughts was pretty trivial stuff running through my head. Mundane plans for running errands, fleeting glimpses of things I wanted or wanted to do, sometimes negatives—wishes for things to be different, for time to pass. Most of what kept my mind from resting was monkey chatter.
My brother, who reads Tibetan philosophy, answered my “What else am I?” question recently. In Tibetan Buddhism, the part of the person that transmigrates is the character rather than the personality. Character includes both positive and negative attributes: kindness, generosity, love, intelligence, greed, sloth, ignorance, and anger. I like the idea of keeping my good characteristics and leaving behind the negatives I’ve overcome, but I would prefer to keep my memory so I don’t have to repeat the same mistakes.
Western religions teach that inspiration comes from without, from the Holy Spirit. Eastern religions teach that inspiration comes from within. From whichever source, one thing is certain: Inspiration best enters a quiet mind. The value of meditation is that it quiets the mind. I find my most creative ideas arise during or right after meditation.
Emma Lou Thayne, the Mormon poet, finds she can receive inspiration during sleep which sounds like a great timesaver. Before falling asleep, she reflects on a piece she is writing or a speech she is preparing. When she awakens in the morning, the words fall into place for her. This method works wonderfully for Emma Lou, but creates insomnia for me.
A few years ago I began meditating with a small group who met weekly, read and discussed philosophy, and practiced sitting or walking meditation together. I have no desire to be a guru who sits silently for hours each day in the lotus position—I can’t even get into a full lotus—but sitting for 10 or 15 minutes before bedtime, softly chanting mantras to myself—such as “calm/ease” or “love/peace” clears and expands my mind. I also try to be mindfully present while doing repetitive tasks. Leaving the car radio off while driving, focusing on breathing while doing yoga or walking, and doing housework without accompanying music or radio commentary are all ways to still my mind several times a day.