“But right now … right now”

te' versato in tazza ceramica biancaYou know the standard advice: when you notice during meditation that the mind has been caught up in thinking rather than with paying attention to your present-moment experience, just let go of the thoughts, without judgement, and just come back to the object of the meditation practice. And do that over and over.

But sometimes the thoughts are very persistent, especially if there’s something that’s preoccupying you emotionally. If you’ve been involved in an unresolved conflict, or have unfinished business, or if you’re looking forward to some big event, then it’s natural that your mind is going to turn to that over and over.

Over the years I’ve found a “trick” that helps me to disengage, gently but firmly, from obsessive thinking. It’s a simple phrase that I drop into the mind: “But right now…” 

When I realize that I’ve been caught up in thinking — yet again — in whatever train of thought has been preoccupying me, I’ll drop that phrase into my mind as I return to the meditation practice. Often it takes the form “But right now … right now …” 

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This phrase does three things:

  1. It affirms the value of the present moment: “But right now.” I’m redirecting my mind away from thoughts of the past or future, and back to whatever is arising for me right now.
  2. It also affirms whatever it is that I’m obsessing about. In saying “but right now” I’m implicitly acknowledging that there is a time and place for thinking about the issue my mind keeps turning toward, but that that time is not now. I’m not saying that it’s “bad” to think about these things, just that this isn’t the right time.
  3. It creates a sense of openness and curiosity. “But right now … what?” What is arising right now? What have I not been paying attention to while I was obsessing about the past or future?

A friend told me that she has a similar phrase: “What is?” She redirects her mind to what’s implicit in the question, which is “What is my present-moment experience?” “What is arising for me right now?” “What is going on in my experience?”

So there you have two phrases you can play with. Or perhaps you’ll come up with your own way of gently redirecting your mind away from persistent thoughts.

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