Giving Thoughts and Feelings Their Rightful Place

Are you ever bored by your own thoughts and feelings? Have you noticed that they pop up like those wagons that used to deliver baked goods or dairy products to suburban neighborhoods? At least they did to the west end of Montreal Island where I grew up. I can still remember lining up for an ice cream bar when the dairy wagon pulled onto our street, or, on Easter Weekend, getting a hot cross bun from the bakery truck.

Many services were delivered in those days, not always with the desired outcome. My mother once succumbed to the silver-tongued salesmanship of a man offering the convenience of a box of frozen food delivered to your door each month. As with many arrangements we make in life, our family soon discovered that receiving an insulated box of frozen food on your doorstep once a month was not what we expected. We’d happily race through the steaks, pork chops, roasts and tubs of ice cream but then have to suffer through the liver, cat fish and other items we would not have chosen from the aisles of our local grocery store. And, as frequently happens when we make decisions without knowing what we’re getting into, unwanted items started collecting in our freezer.

Today, it’s unwanted thoughts and feelings that arrive on the doorstep of my mind. They show up faithfully, invited or not. And often I scarcely even notice them.

The past few mornings, (guided by a practice, “Cloud of Knowing” in Love of Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku), I’ve been trying to be more attentive to the thoughts and feelings that rap on the door of my mind. I’ve been trying to meet them half way, welcoming them instead of hoping they won’t exhaust my attention or make me depressed.

I know I can’t be the only one who tries to ignore the thoughts that visit him every day. Sometimes, there may be good reason not to give them too much attention. All those thoughts and feelings, perceptions and sensations are so familiar, so unremarkable, so uninteresting. What could they possibly tell us about our lives or ourselves?

So why was I showing interest this morning in all those thoughts and feelings I have met a thousand times before? Why did I take a second look at the parade of visitors all telling the same stories that I have been hearing for as long as I can remember?

Because it occurred to me that they are looking for me, because they have things to tell me about my past, about what I hope to find in this lifetime, and what I care about. If I treat them as visitors that have nothing to teach me, then I am the one who is stuck in past time. But if I listen with the respect that they may well deserve, perhaps I can gain their trust and they will tell me more. Perhaps they will give up secrets that they have withheld, not because they are unwilling to share them but because they can’t share them if I am not listening. Perhaps the memories and hopes that I ignore are the leading edge of waves of deeper memories and hopes, which never reach the shore of my mind as long as I keep turning away. Perhaps they would roll up onto the shore if they saw that I am finally paying attention. Perhaps as long as I assume that they have nothing new to tell me, then what I know now is all I’ll ever know.

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