The Trouble with Insights

Mar 31, 2014 | Mindfulness Meditation | 0 comments


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Have you ever had an insight so profound that you’re sure your life will be transformed forever afterwards?
Here’s how it happens. You do a yoga workshop and a detail that you’re taught turns your world upside down. For instance, you’d been doing triangle pose one way (the best way, you thought). Then, you learned a point that upends your way of doing, not just triangle but all the standing poses.
Or, you read a book, and a new paradigm presents. It explains why you’ve been having trouble in your intimate relationships. From now on, you can envisage your romantic life the way you always hoped for. It will be like an expressway, where all lanes are open and you’re sailing along in a convertible sports car with the top down.
Or, perhaps you came to realise how great it is that you retrenched from your job because you had been spinning your wheels. You’d suppressed yourself and you can see that it’s the next job where you will finally excel.
The trouble with insights is that they have a slippery edge. For one thing, because the material is new, it’s untried. So often, our brilliant insights lose their shine because we slip back into our old (unsuccessful) grooves.
Recently I read a book called Who Dies? for an on-course I’m enrolled in. The author is Stephen Levine, an American meditation teacher. In the book Levine investigates what it is to live consciously and die consciously. These are weighty concepts that Levine somehow manages to treat with candour and lightness.
The book material has held up well over the 25 years since it was first published, and I’d recommend it to anyone. It sheds light on how we can take part more fully in life, especially by embracing our inevitable mortality.
One phrase from the book grabbed me, and I’ve been playing with this insight ever since.

Make who you are the object of perception, not the subject.

This notion intersects with the mindfulness practice I do. When I am aware of being the object of perception, I can turn my attention in different directions. I have choices. I might notice sounds and my sense of hearing, or feel my body sensations, or my thoughts as they arise and pass away. I am a watcher on the bank of a river, observing currents and ripples.
When I am the subject of my perception, it’s as though I have fallen into the river and am at the mercy of a tide of thoughts or impressions.
How am I doing with my insight? I’d guess that I’ve remembered it about 2% of the time, but that’s 2% more presence of mind than before. What’s been most helpful is that I’ve been able to summon this insight at challenging times. When I feel that I’m at the effect of an unkind word, a computer glitch or disturbing news, I can avoid becoming reactive.
Try this insight on yourself the next time you do your asana practice. See if you can do 10 rounds of salutes to the sun, witnessing each breath. As you transition through the postures, can you be mindful of the beginning, middle and end of each pose?
This is what makes the time that you practice valuable, just how awake you are to every moment. Credit yourself for each time you notice your attention collapses and gently bring it back. This way you’ll stay compassionate and soft in your awareness.


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