At some point or another, nearly all meditators struggle with the challenge of an overactive mind. Most of us are aware that meditation requires us to find a way to disengage from our thoughts. But what happens when a flow of creative, insightful ideas suddenly emerges in the midst of our meditation? Should we disengage from even these juicy, valuable and interesting thoughts? Or can we make an exception in order to capture potentially important ideas so we can apply them to our life? In this Q&A, Craig explores the unique challenge of having no relationship to thought, even when our thoughts are exciting, important, and deeply good.
Below the audio is an edited transcript of the talk and a downloadable mp3, if you’d prefer to engage the content in that way.
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Mark wrote in to say that he’s working on a book project that has him very intellectually stimulated and engaged. Because of that, he’s finding it hard to let go of the mind in meditation and is wondering how to deal with that.
This is something I can relate to because I spend a lot of time writing and working on creative projects. But this isn’t just a challenge for creatives.
This dynamic can happen for all of us, but it’s particularly challenging for anybody who has a lot of problems to solve. For example, if you’re entrepreneurial and you’re trying to build an organization or a movement, you’re constantly bombarded with new ideas that you want to enact. This happens when you’re doing creative work, or for engineers who are trying to puzzle things out. I’m sure many different types of people experience this kind of thing.
The obvious answer to this question is also a simple answer. Having an active, stimulated mind is going to be more challenging when you sit down to meditate, because meditation is about not being involved in your mind. From one point of view, it’s about not engaging in thought, not knowing, and letting go of that whole world.
So of course it’s going to be challenging because you’ve got so much thinking momentum all the time. It’s harder. So that means you have to meditate more and you have to do it with more commitment and more humility and more determination and more intention to really do it.
Think about it. For most of us, meditation is really only something you do for half an hour a day or an hour a day. It’s this short period of time where you set your engagement with the mind and the worldaside. You’ve got the other sixteen waking hours of your day to be engaged. Wouldn’t it be good to let it go for a little while? I think that’s probably pretty simple and reasonable.
That’s the simple, obvious answer, but my guess is that you probably want more than that.
The challenge when we’re facing important creative problems or projects is that we’re engaged with them all throughout the day. And the reason that we find those projects extra hard to disengage from is because we’re ambivalent about really letting go of the mind.
Let’s say you’ve been working on your book all day, and when you sit down for meditation, you get a great idea. This kind of thing is very common, because there’s all this space when you meditate. Maybe you’ve been trying to figure out how to start a chapter, and bam, suddenly the answer comes. It could also be an idea about a life problem or work problem you’ve been trying to solve and suddenly the seed of an answer starts to germinate.
The trick is to realize that the reason you’re having such a hard time letting go is not because of the momentum of thinking. Rather, it’s that you’re really more invested in solving your problem or getting this creative work done than you are in discovering the mystery of your own true nature. You want to engage in your creative ideas more than you want to make room for something beyond all of that to begin to come through and animate you.
It actually gets down to our core intention. Do I really want to awaken? How interested am I in what’s beyond the mind? How much do I care about the higher potential of all this? It’s in those moments that our true intentions are revealed to us. We might realize that we just want to solve our problem or get our creative work done. That feels like a higher priority in the moment, because we’re so invested in it. This isn’t something that should cause us to feel bad about ourselves. This is just the nature of what’s getting revealed in these moments.
There’s not some gimmick to overcoming this challenge. You can’t just, for example, take the creative idea and put it on a little mental piece of paper and then file it in your mind so you can come back to it after your practice.
The reality is that you’ve got to want to meditate a little bit more than you want to solve any creative problem or engage any of those ideas. This means you have to value the opportunity that your meditation time represents. If you really reflect on the significance of spiritual practice, you’ll eventually come to a place where you know that during this time that you’ve set aside for meditation, your practice is far more important than any great idea that might come to you.
Then you’ll be in a place where you can let go of even the greatest ideas that well up, because you’re more passionate about the unknown than you are about the known. It’s my experience that if you plant your stake in the unknown, you’ll find that the creativity and flow in your life begins to multiply and all of those creative questions and problems will get solved in their own way.