I wasn’t able to get to all your (excellent) questions during our two conference calls last week, so i’ll be answering them here.
Q. My question: I sometimes get carried away with my fantasies and discursive thoughts during meditation. I am aware of the fact that I am getting carried away, and then I sabotage my practice by making a conscious choice that I need to process this particular issue right now, or that I find this fantasy so pleasurable that I am going to continue with it, instead of going back to the boring breath. Then I later beat myself up for my weakness. Do you have any suggestions for being more disciplined with my practice? Again—this particular problem is not that I am unaware that my attention has strayed; rather, I am aware but unwilling or unable to come back to the breath. It is like a contest of wills and often the weaker one wins out.
A. Thank you for this question. None of this is a problem. I have two suggestions.
First, when you notice that you get carried away by fantasies and discursiveness, as soon as you notice that, let the fantasy or thought go and return to breath. Try saying to yourself, silently: “thinking” as a way of marking the moment and letting go. When you notice that you are making a conscious choice to process, call that “thinking” also, let it go, and come back. When you notice that you are beating yourself up, call that “thinking,” let it go, and come back. Coming back is discipline itself. You don’t have to worry about tightening up or becoming more strict or calling yourself out as a way of becoming more disciplined. All you have to do is notice, let go, and come back. Similarly, when you notice that you are unwilling or unable to come back, call that “thinking” as well. When the weaker voice wins out, call that “thinking” and come back. When the stronger voice wins out, you guessed it, call that “thinking” too and come back.
Second, try practicing for slightly longer periods. The dance you describe is completely natural and normal for a person who is just settling into her practice for the day. Our minds can twist and turn into some pretty funny shapes as we begin to practice. It can take 10, 15, or even 20 minutes to settle in. As you practice for longer periods (maybe try it once a week?), you’ll see that much of this discursiveness dispels itself.
Hope this is helpful!