The mind always needs to be thinking about something. Solving some problem. Remembering some memory or envisioning the future.
It’s always coming up with some new thought. Trying to bait me into thinking.
This was one of my biggest takeaways from the first time that I did a 10-Day Vipassana retreat – when you try to stop thinking, the mind likes to “fish” for your attention.
You see, the mind gets irritated when you try to ignore it. The mind isn’t used to being ignored. It doesn’t know what to do.
It thinks that you like to think, because that’s what you’ve always done.
So what does it do?
It generates thoughts!
I like to imagine that my attention and focus is a fish. When I am focused on my breath, I am swimming through the seas peacefully.
But as I swim around, my subconscious mind tries to fish for my attention. It throws bait at me and tries to get me to bite.
Like a fisherman putting bait onto a hook, your brain puts worms of thought onto the hook and goes fishing for your attention.
At first it will give you your day to day surface level thoughts. Thoughts about what has happened recently or what’s been on your mind.
And at first you will take the bait. You might entertain these thoughts for some time. It’s natural.
Like a baby Nemo, you bite at the first piece of bait that floats your way.
But then as your concentration strengthens, those thoughts no longer have the same strength, and you can ignore them more easily.
But when this happens the mind wises up – it’s still trying to get you to think, so it needs to throw some better bait at you.
If in the first round there were bugs on the hook, now it’s throwing the live worms at you.
Instead of your day to day surface level thoughts, you might start to think about a relationship that’s gone awry recently. Or maybe a pleasant thought of an idea you want to pursue. Or maybe an insight/realization about the meditation.
Your brain stepped it’s game up – in failing to get your attention, it starts to throw other things that it thinks WILL grab your attention.
And at first it probably will! You will succumb to those thoughts because once again, it’s natural!
BUT as always – we can get stronger and improve! We can learn to let these thoughts arise and pass just like we did with the easier day to day ones.
Then again – as you level up, so does your brain.
Now it’s throwing the bait you can’t resist. The delectable. Although you know there’s a hook underneath, you can’t resist it. It’s too tempting and you bite.
Seeing that nothing seems to be grabbing your attention, the mind begins to throw the heavy guns at you. Past emotional traumas. Large unanswered questions. Things you’ve been avoiding for too long.
Now that the basic stuff is out of the way, we gotta deal with the truly heavy parts of our lives.
But again like all the others, over time we can learn. Recognize the bait and not bite.
In many ways this is the process when we meditate and go through the journey of self healing. At first we deal with our surface level emotions, and then we go deeper, and then still we go deeper, as more and more unresolved parts of our lives rise to the surface.
Only once we’ve dealt with the surface stuff can we be ready to handle the more emotionally challenging things. It’s a sequence and we can’t jump stages.
But we CAN go backwards. We can make progress and lose it. Train ourselves to be less reactive to the bait, stop training for a bit, and then start taking the bait all over again.
It’s a process. A journey of healing and strengthening your concentration. As you progress you unlock new experiences and get rid of past habits that are no longer serving you. As you go deeper you learn to work on the root of problems, the core, and see how that ripples out into the rest of your life.
Speaking of the rest of your life – I also believe this analogy applies even more so off the cushion when out in the real world.
When someone says something in an attempt to get a reaction out of you, will you take the bait?
When a frustrating situation arises and tries to get you angry, will you take the bait?
When thinking about the future will you take the bait and get anxious?
On a smaller scale – every time a notification goes off on your phone the world is fishing for your attention. Every like, comment, message, email, video, etc – is fishing for your attention. How frequently do you take this bait?
The outside world is constantly fishing for your attention. Fishing for your fucks.
Don’t give your fishy fucks away to the fisherman of the world. Keep your fishy fucks to yourself. Be selective when you do decide to bite and do so intentionally.
Unlike the fish however, for us the repercussions to taking the bait are harder to notice. Our repercussions are a cloudy and stressed out mind. Our repercussions are a lack of focus. Stored up tension and stress.
Realize that the world is fishing for your attention. And when the external world isn’t, your mind is fishing for your attention instead. Train yourself to walk through the sea of bait unflustered, and just like Dory and Nemo…just keep swimming in the peaceful seas of awareness 🙂