When Inspiration Strikes

What to do when inspiration strikes while sitting. Q & A with Gavin Harrison

Meditation practice should always be inclusive and workable. In fact, a wholehearted, mindful embrace of everything that arises in your mind is the only path to true freedom. It is critical that all thoughts—including inspiring ones—be included in meditation practice. So the moment when inspiration strikes is really the perfect opportunity to put this vision of inclusiveness and workability to the test! Here are some tools that can help you affirm your inspiring thoughts without letting them distract you from the focus of your practice:

1. Make an Agreement with Yourself
Before beginning a period of meditation, reflect for a moment on your commitment to bringing your inspiring thoughts into the heart of your meditation practice. Place a pad and a pen beside you. Make an agreement with yourself that you will allow yourself to record only one inspiring thought per sitting period.

2. Focus the Mind
If your mind is scattered, it is helpful to cultivate a degree of concentration and calm before bringing the awareness to thoughts and emotions. You may find it helpful to do this by focusing on the changing sensations of your breathing for a while.

3. Note Resistance
It is not uncommon to feel that the process of thinking is an interruption of what should be happening. So start by becoming aware of any resistance to these thoughts: do you feel it in your body? Where? Perhaps across the shoulder blades, or in the face, the groin area, or the stomach? Is there an experience of tightness or tension in your mind? Include this resistance in the field of your awareness.

4. Note Fear
If you are worried that you will forget the thought, fear has entered the picture! It is critical that you also include the energetic experience of fear in your practice. Where do you feel the changing sensations associated with the fear? The emotional transition from resistance to fear is a wonderful opportunity to observe the laws of karma at work. Insight into the laws of cause and effect and the interdependence of the mind and the body is an important aspect of meditation practice.

5. Use A Mental Noting Practice
If you tend to get excited when inspiration strikes, it may be interesting to examine what is happening. Mentally noting these feelings and reactions to your thoughts may help. Try: in breath, out breath, and note: “inspiring thought, excitement, thought”; then again, in breath, out breath, and note: “worry, fear, another inspiring thought,” and so on.

6. Maintain a Sense of Humor
Try giving the inspiring thoughts a humorous label as soon as they arise, like “Einstein!” The simple label will not only help you realize the cyclical pattern of your thoughts, but by not taking your thoughts so seriously you will probably dilute any impulse to turn them into a problem.

7. As a Last Resort, Write Down the Thought
If a thought keeps relentlessly recurring, document the inspiration on your notepad, maintaining awareness of each intention as you do so: the intention and sensation of opening the eyes, the intention to reach for the pen, the sensations as your arm moves, the sensations of grasping the pen, the intention to reach for the pad, hearing the scratch of the pen on the paper.

By mindfully making a place for inspiring thoughts in your meditation practice, you affirm these thoughts and—who knows?—you may even get enlightened in the process!

Gavin Harrison is the author of In the Lap of the Buddha. He lives in Hawaii, where he teaches Insight Meditation.

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