What our heart feels is influenced by what our mind sees. Preconceptions govern what we see and what we perceive. Sometimes these habitual patterns are helpful to us. A very simple example is that when we encounter a door and a doorknob, we know what to do with it. We also have preconceived ideas about how roadways, signs, and sidewalks work. All of those things help us navigate the world, so they’re helpful and necessary. At the same time, our preconceptions can be extremely constricting. When we enter a situation or look at a person, our habitual patterns that we’ve inherited and developed from our experience create a filter between a clear way of seeing and what we’re perceiving in our mind. This is the source of bias. Perhaps in our upbringing we were influenced by the media, and maybe our family, friends, peers, and community around us so that we now see certain people in a certain way.
Part of the goal of meditation is to create more ease, and more of a gentle and open heart—gentle to ourselves and gentle to others. So when we practice meditation, we can have a very light touch with our thoughts. When we let them go and we’re not grasping or judging them, they become more transparent. With the following meditation, we can take this idea beyond the traditional mindfulness practice with contemplation and inquiry.
The phrase that applies here is “not-knowing.” We’re asking ourselves what’s really true. This kind of inquiry can interrupt a rapid thought pattern that creates bias. We can loosen our grip on what we think we know.
Frank Ostaseski, a mindfulness teacher who has done lots of work with people who are dying and ill over the years says that not-knowing is extremely important for him. He says that when you’re spending time with someone who is sick or dying, our inclination may be to fill up the space, but it’s better to realize that you don’t really know what they’re going through. You can experience the situation more intimately with this attitude of not-knowing.
A 12-Minute Meditation to Explore What’s True
A 12-Minute Meditation to Explore What’s True with Barry Boyce
- Sit up straight and close your eyes if that feels comfortable to you. If not, you can leave them open.
- Feel your body touching the chair or cushion. Feel all the points of contact and your feet on the floor.
- Take three conscious breaths at your own pace.
- Now I’d like to invite you to imagine a person or a situation that upsets you or annoys you. Don’t choose the worst situation. Instead, choose something mild or middling. Maybe it’s something that relates to a sibling, friend, parent, or colleague, or a situation that you regularly encounter.
- Ask yourself, “What do I know?” “What do I really know here?” “Is what I’m thinking about this person or this situation true?” Pay attention to the thoughts you have as this person is annoying or upsetting you. Whatever that thought is, is it true?
- Now that you can see how you’ve constructed your perception of the situation, what do you do? Let it go. Let the situation come to you fresh. There’s more openness and that openness leads to more warmth.
- By asking questions like “What is true?” and “What do I know?”, we can open our hearts to generate a sense of love and kindness. It’s also helpful because we’re not fighting against a thought or bias. If you push against bias or thoughts, it creates more pain and tension, and you’re likely to get angry at yourself or another as a result.
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