Following too many tweets on Twitter is like what the mind does all the time. Fleeting thoughts come and go, there’s a lot of inconsequential chatter, and we can’t control it. Yet somehow in this cacophony of opinions, judgments, observations, sell-jobs, and bits of humor, we need to be selective and concentrated enough to focus on what is essential!
I had a clarifying, direct experience of the impermanence and impersonality of thinking this week in sitting group. Transitory city sounds fill the room where the weekly sitting group meets. It’s mostly traffic humming by, and there are people sounds too: a cough, a shifting body in a chair, a gentle snore. The sounds come and go, and I sit in the midst of the kaleidoscope. I’m in the middle of it and yet sideways to it. It doesn’t need me in order to happen, although I am among those who are hearing. I’m not controlling the sound. I am noticing my reactions to it.
This week, when I shifted the object of meditation to thoughts, I suddenly had the same experience. As if the thoughts were sounds. Thinking happened. I couldn’t make thinking happen or not happen. I could try to pick a topic and concentrate, but my thoughts would eventually wander. A kaleidoscope of thoughts. I’m in the middle of it but not controlling the thinking. It reminds me of what Jack Kornfield says: “The mind is a story machine.“
On past meditation retreats, I’ve had the experience of slowing down enough to begin separating from thoughts. I could see them forming, like the dialogue bubbles in cartoons. More space and time allowed super-slo-mo, with a time delay to watch a thought, or a train of thought, without being so caught up in the action.
The mind thinks. The ears hear. The thoughts come and go. Their content is conditioned, and a lot of it doesn’t really matter. At the same time, thinking matters. And it seems like actions really matter, if thoughts aren’t always trustworthy. This is why the Buddhist precepts are useful and important, an ethical system to guide actions in spite of the trickiness of thinking.
I can practice my response to thoughts; I can practice which thoughts to follow. I can practice concentration, to see thoughts more clearly, and to track their relationship to actions. Like a filter to sort the colors or sounds.
To try to bring it all back around to tweeting: I’ve been wondering how anyone can possibly follow 1,000 or 5,000 or 16,543 other twitterers. I’m already sort of overwhelmed with the meager three dozen or so that I’m currently following, especially some prodigious posters. It’s like inviting even more colors into the kaleidoscope of thoughts. But maybe that’s the point… Twitter as another opportunity to practice mindfulness!?!