Tuesday, July 17, 2012

High interest rates

What do high interest rates have to do with meditation?

When I meditate, I often find myself distracted by thoughts that pull me into them.  Why?  Because, at some level, I am interested in them and where they will lead me:  the solution to a problem, an answer to a question, a memory from the past, a plan for the future.  I have to remind myself that I am not meditating for these purposes.  I have to refuse to pay the "interest rates" these diversions cost me by disengaging from these thoughts, by letting them go.

Sometimes I encounter clients who seem to be going over and over the same ground, such as a loss, trauma, or injustice.  There has to be a motivation behind this; perhaps at some level they hope that by continuously going over the same ground they will achieve some insight and with it a sense of satisfaction or closure.  Perhaps they believe that they can think away the problem.  Maybe it is just a desire to impress upon those who listen how deeply affected they have been and to experience the sympathy from others.  Whatever caused their suffering initially tends to be compounded by a secondary form of suffering in the form of this repetitive spinning and the emotions that it generates.  But many people have great difficulty breaking out of these cycles, of disengaging from them, and letting them go.  They seem to have a stake in going over and over the same content, an interest that keeps them engaged and bound.  Thus, they continue to pay exorbitant interest rates at the cost of their mental health.

To break these cycles, it is first of all necessary to recognize the cost of them.  It is not that we cannot think about our issues or tell others about them, but we have to be able to break out of repetitive cycles once they have become a secondary source of suffering. This can be done at the level of mental training or the level of action.  The level of action is perhaps easiest.  We can keep busy and thereby divert ourselves from the repetitive thinking.  We can recognize when we are getting caught up in these cycles and use that as a cue to act and do something that is important to us.  

Breaking out of repetitive cycles can also be done through mental training and meditation is especially effective for this.  This requires an awareness of the purpose of these cycles, a willingness to let go of them, an ability to recognize when they appear, and the disciplined use of noting to disengage from them.  


  1. Trust me ...I am only too well of the cost. I once figured out on a train trip home from Toronto the number of minutes I might have left to live..averaging the ages of my two parent's deaths..
    I am only too aware of the 10 minutes spent in confusion, spent in regret, spent in inappropriate situations of my choice, spent in saying all that I have always said...etc. etc. ad nauseum..
    I subtracted and subracted and then though" Holy shit!"...but that was on a sane day..smile..
    Once again...I get it..thanks to this new direction and difficult but incredibly challenging learning.

    1. Anonymous H:

      The realization of how much time we waste is truly sobering. You might want to read (if you have not already done so) the essay by Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, on the subject. Even though it was written some 2000 years ago, it is just as true now as it was then. The trouble is, what to do with all that time if you are not wasting it. Seneca suggests that the study of philosophy is the way to go. Buddhist teachers might recommend meditation or good works.

      If you are interested, there is a good modern translation of Seneca's Dialogues and Essays by John Davie published by Oxford University Press. The essay is entitled, "On the Shortness of Life."

  2. This is very true. I know someone who lost a son in a car accident. He was alone in his car on a road with a history of accidents where others have died, the police investigated it and determined from the skid marks a deer probably ran out and he tried to avoid it, causing the crash. There was no alcohol or other factors to contribute to it. His parent however, cannot seem to accept it for what it is. It seems as if she keeps trying to fit a "round peg in a square hole" by rethinking it over and over again, looking for reasons like he tried to commit suicide, or that someone else was involved, etc., looking for any inconsistency to support these conclusions other than to accept that is was simply an accident. Being stuck in this cycle has caused a secondary and needless form of suffering. She is stuck in this trap, I suggested she try meditation just to take her mind off the focus of these things and I hope it helps.