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The Buddha Freestyles: The Pixies and Contemplating Consciousness

The Buddha Freestyles is a new column where I will take a quote from music and flesh out how it can relate to living a life of mindfulness and compassion. Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.

--

Your head will collapse
If there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself
Where is my mind

- The Pixies, from Where is My Mind (thanks to Ashley B for this week’s suggested song)

 

Here the Pixies offer us an opportunity to become inquisitive about who we think we are, and to explore teachings on the Buddhist view of emptiness.

The Pixies are not teaching directly, but suggesting that you yourself take the time to ask about the location of your mind. If your mind is in your head, then it should not collapse. If it does, then you might find yourself asking where your mind might be, if not in your head. While this seems to be an extreme route of inquiry, the question of looking for your mind or your sense of self is not a new one. There are volumes of teachings in the Buddhist tradition on looking at your sense of self, including the location of your mind.

From a Buddhist point of view, the self is seen as a conglomeration of five skandhas, or aggregates, that come together and allow us the illusion that we are a complete and solid sentient being. The five skandhas are: our physical form, our layers of feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and the consciousness that holds the whole package together.

In my book, The Buddha Walks into a Bar, I lay out a longer contemplation for how to explore how solid and real each of these skandhas truly are. For the sake of this week’s suggested lyric, we could just consider the fifth aggregate, consciousness.

If we are going to follow The Pixies’ suggestion and look to find our mind, we can practice shamatha, or calm-abiding meditation. As is laid out in the instructions, when you find yourself drifting off into thoughts, emotions, or fantasies, gently bring yourself back to the breath. Come back to the present moment.

After ten minutes, you can engage contemplation practice. Instead of focusing on the breath, you can turn your attention to a question, using that instead as the anchor for your meditation practice. You could use, “Who is this ‘me’ who is following the breath and occasionally thinking?” or “Who is the ‘me’ who notices that I am lost in thought?” or “What or who is actually doing any of this meditation?” Sit with one or more of these questions, letting them wash over you like a wave. Do not try to come to any set answers, just see what realization may arise and dissolve over the next five to ten minutes.

After some period of contemplation, relax your mind and drop all technique. Don’t go back to shamatha just yet; instead rest in the space that may have arisen in your practice. Then return to shamatha meditation.

The more we follow this line of inquiry the more we develop insight into the way things truly are. We begin to recognize that it is a mental delusion to cling to the idea of a set entity that is real and exists in a solid way, and as a result our belief in a separate self begins to dissolve.

As we begin to relax into the reality that our sense of self and our sense of our mind is not as solid as we originally thought, we experience equanimity. Perhaps that is what The Pixies are encouraging us toward.

 

Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.

(please note that comments are open for five days, then Lodro gets to work on the next column)

Lodro's book, The Buddha Walks into a Bar, can be found here

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