I am not a Zen practitioner nor do I follow any eastern approach to spirituality or religion. But I do meditate and think it should be a part of everyone’s arsenal for dealing with stress and providing some quiet time for yourself. While I’ve sat (meditators call the act of meditating “sitting”) for years off and on, some recent events have inspired me to sit more regularly, and I’m seeing benefit from the increased time spent meditating.
In trying to deal with a perplexing issue that just isn’t breaking free, there’s a technique in meditation where you place the problem in the back of your mind then meditate not on the problem, but on a mantra that stimulates your subconscious to work out the problem instead. Practitioners of positive thinking, for instance, use the technique of asking yourself a question at the start of a day, such as, “How can I make money and enjoy what I’m doing” or something similar. Once voiced, you consciously let it go, but your subconscious, being the inquisitive imp it is, won’t let it go and will usually not rest until it finds the answer.
Too often we obsess about an issue to the point of confusion, thus eliminating any chance of finding a solution. The challenge, therefore, is to find a way to stew about issues without directly thinking or obsessing. With targeted meditation, you set the question on the back burner, so to speak, while you boil the mantra on the front burner. By approaching the problem this way, you cultivate a questioning perspective but without a conscious object, thus giving your subconscious the chance to resolve.
A friend suggested this wondrous meditative technique for me to work on for one of my dogmatic issues. The approach consists of sitting and using the mantra “What is this/I don’t know.” Once relaxed and breathing steadily, you mentally say “What is this” during each inhale of breath, then “I don’t know” during each exhale. You continue through your sitting session thus then go about your business as usual, content that you’ve set up your subconscious to cook up a delicious resolution for your conscious self.
While this sounds solid and serious, somehow my first experience with this did not work quite like my friend envisioned. Have you seen the Bud beer commercials, the black guys calling each other on the phone and doing the “Wassup” routine? And have you seen Bud’s parody of their own commercials, the ones showing the white preppy guys in tennis clothes, etc., calling each other with their version of wassup: “What are YOU doing , Louis.” “Nothing. What are you DOING Carl?” Sigh. For some reason my meditating muse thought it funny for me to suddenly remember the noxious tones of those white, preppy boys brutalizing the infamous wassup routines when I began the targeted meditation. And so, as I sat, my mantra became an echo of Bud’s parody commercial: “What IS this”…”WHAT is this” “What is THIS.” Sad, but terribly funny at the time. Not matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn’t keep their sing-song voices from bastardizing my mantra. After about five minutes I gave up. Giggling and meditating do not blend well.
I’m happy to report my giggling reaction was only a one-time event. The next time I sat and used the targeted meditating technique things went fine, as did the subsequent sitting using the same mantra. But for that one time, sadly the world of TV advertising invaded the sacred quiet of one man’s meditation attempt. Maybe Buddha’s trying to tell me that I should unplug the TV more often.