In my last Sunday talk, I worked with the 8-fold path and the limb of Right Thought. The Buddha had many suggestions about how to work with our thoughts.
One of the practices I use is “Guarding of the Mind.” This practice creates an image of a protective guardian at the entrance to the mind and its stream of thoughts. That Guardian I often visualize like one of the Protective Gargoyle-type statues — ferocious and threatening. That Guard energetically reminds me to decide: “Is this thought helpful or hurtful?” The Guard sorts our thoughts into two buckets — wholesome and unwholesome, and further give us the strength and mindfulness to let go of the unwholesome thoughts.
From The Removal of Distracting Thoughts Sutta in “In the Buddha’s Words; An anthology of discourses from the Pali Canon” edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
8. “Monks, When a monk is giving attention to some sign (form, name, thought, appearance, phenomenon), and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, then when he gives attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, any such evil unwholesome thoughts are abandoned in him and subside, and with their abandoning his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
When he examines the danger in those thoughts…. Her mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
When he tries to forget those thoughts and does not give attention to them…. his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
When she gives attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts… her mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
When, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind, any such evil unwholesome thoughts are abandoned in him and subside, and with their abandoning, his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
This monk is then called a master of the courses of thought. She will think whatever thought she wishes to think and she will not think any thought that she does not wish to think. She has severed craving, flung off the fetters, and with the complete penetration of conceit she has made an end of suffering.”
Buddha has called this “changing the peg”. This means that you take out an unwholesome thought and “change the peg” by replacing it with a wholesome thought.
Just this week I used this practice. To my surprise, I actually remembered to use it. I had a circumstance arise where I completely lost my composure. I thought that, through certain circumstances, I was not going to be able to go on my annual vacation upnorth in a cabin with my family. Somehow that disappointment opened a floodgate of feelings of several losses I’m experiencing at the moment. I started to sob and couldn’t stop. I sobbed until I went to bed and then I sobbed when I first opened my eyes. Not only was there crying but there was a stream of thoughts about blame, anger, unfairness, why-me-ness, that accompanied my tears. About two hours later, I was driving in the car, and I remembered my lecture. I said to myself, “Judith, what thoughts are helping you and what thoughts are harming you?” I could quickly sort out my self-involved, aversive, ungrateful thoughts. Because I have been practicing the metta phrases, I quickly picked out a few of them that matched my circumstance and two phrase in particular calmed my mind down.
- May I have grace in the midst of disappointment.
- May I accept things as they are.
And in a moment, my mind pivoted and became steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.
It seemed much simpler with a quieted mind, to spend the rest of my day in radical acceptance and peace. Repeating the phrases and letting go.
Later in the day, I received a text saying we could go up on our vacation the second week of August but in a different cabin and I just had to smile.