Many people are under the assumption that during meditation practice it is necessary to prevent yourself from thinking. This may be possible for advanced practitioners but for most of us this isn’t a realistic goal. Pema Chodron teaches to acknowledge thoughts as they come back, label them as thinking, and then let them go. For me it was a real breakthrough to understand that even if I couldn’t banish my thoughts it didn’t mean my practice was futile.
At Doi Suthep Meditation Center, if a thought began to form in our mind we were asked to chant to ourselves “Thinking, thinking thinking” and then continue our meditation. At first it seems like all you are doing is chanting those words over and over but as the days pass your mind slows a bit. Fifteen minutes starts to feel like a very reasonable length of time to sit still, and reaching the end seems like less of an impossibility at times.
Along with the increase in time assignments, the Dhamma also added more steps as the week went on. For the first day of sitting meditation you just focused on “rising” and “falling,” then “sitting” was added in to the mix, and then you had to rotate through mentally “touching” a series of points on your body. Focusing my awareness on my lower back or the backs of my knees was something I never even got close to mastering.
I found walking meditation much easier, even as the steps became more segmented and deliberate. It began with “lifting” your foot of the ground and “putting” it back down. The next step was a pause in the air, and then you added a heel raise before the pause. Each iteration was a tiny bit slower than the previous one as you focused on the most minuscule movements possible. I was a little too aware of my pace; I knew for that it took me a little more than two laps along my meditation rug to kill twenty minutes and felt relief after I passed the half way point. Someday I’d like to progress past the point of counting down since I’m pretty sure it goes against the intentions of meditation.