Yesterday, I went to the beach and spent some time watching the waves. In the teachings, thoughts are often compared to waves. Just like waves are the natural activity of the ocean, thoughts are the natural activity of the mind. The advice sounds really simple: “Don’t worry about the thoughts they are just like waves. Just let them come and go”. In practice, I don’t find it so simple! I have a very busy mind and often find myself completely taken over by the constant stream of thoughts pulling in all kinds of directions.
As I was looking at the waves, I was reflecting on this comparison of waves and thoughts. It is a very beautiful but wild beach and the waves here are also not easy to deal with. They come in crashing quite strong, the ground drops off very quickly, and there is a strong undercurrent. You really gotta watch out that you don’t get thrown over and pulled under the water. The trick is to learn how to handle the waves. You gotta watch out and be ready to dive into the wave if a big one is about to crash onto you. Some people enjoy this game. They actually look for the big waves and either get right into where they crash or try to surf on top of them.
I realized that’s what I need to learn to do with my mind, too. To be playful and learn how to dance with its waves. My instinctive reaction is that I want the thoughts to go away and to have a quiet mind. My teachers say that’s not a very helpful attitude to have. Rather than fighting my thoughts and emotions, I need to learn how to look at them as the manifestation of the nature of mind. They can be very powerful, but just as the waves on this beach, if I become familiar with them they will be manageable and it can even be fun.
In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes:
There is a Tibetan saying. “It’s a tall order to ask for meat without bones or tea without leaves.” So as long as you have a mind, there will be thoughts and emotions. (p.77)
The way I understand this is that we need to learn to be able to be simply present in the face of whatever arises. Freedom comes when we are no longer controlled by our thoughts and emotions. Usually we believe our opinions to be true, but actually they are very subjective and dependent on many circumstances and how our past has conditioned us. We loose our freedom when we believe their message to be true and can’t help but react in all sorts of negative and unhelpful ways.