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Marieke van Vugt

The mental laboratory

The mental laboratory http://tonyjack.org/

My teacher said during the recent retreat in Amsterdam that we should study ourselves: our habits, where we get distracted, where things go wrong, what triggers our emotions and what pushes our buttons. This resonated quite deeply with me, given that after all, I am a scientist. But I found that it is not only helpful to study your more gross patterns of mind by asking these questions about how you function in situations you encounter in life.

You can also ask a similar question during your meditation: when is it that I get distracted? I found that as I started investigating this question I suddenly became much more alert and invigorated. While sometimes meditation can be more a way to deeply chill out, "chillax" as my teacher calls it, sometimes I then drift into dullness. It is then that I find it very useful to use my investigative mind. It really perks me up. Every time I get a bit distracted I turn back to this question: when do I get distracted? What happens to my mind? 

Meditation is like a continuous investigative process. I often remember how Jon Kabat-Zinn said during some of the Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes that we can always go back to this inner laboratory that we always carry with us. It's like the portable laboratory. Just like we (scientists) go to our outer laboratories during the day, we can also sit down on our cushion and really work in our inner laboratories: we can probe our minds and see how it works. Alan Wallace even goes as far as calling for a contemplative observatory where people spend thousands of hours studying their own minds--the contemplative observatory. Now that may not be feasible for most of us, but still using this explicit investigative focus in our daily practice may be inspiring. And as we learn more about the mind's inner workings, it also becomes more tamed. Instead of being a victim of our thoughts and emotions, we can become in charge of them.