As we approach the end of the year we are surrounded by voices which encourage us to reflect on how we have done and make changes. While some reflection may be good, it usually falls into the “I am not good enough” category and “I should be otherwise”, a variation of the judgmental thoughts which we try to let pass through in practice. Ajahn Sumedho’s words here are the perfect response to this tendency, simply noting thoughts, even worthy ones, as thoughts, which pass away, and reminding ourselves to stay close to how life actually is, and not our judgments about it.
If you listen to yourself very much you can sometimes hear such statements as, “I should do this but I shouldn’t do that”, “I should be this way, I shouldn’t be that way,” or that the world should be other than it is, our parents should be this way or that way, and shouldn’t be the way they are. So we have this particular verb tense ringing through our minds because we have an idea of what shouldn’t be or should be. Our tendency is to try to become something, and so we set a goal, create an ideal of what we would like to become. Maybe we think society should be other than it is. People should be kind, generous, understanding, loving, there should be brotherhood and people shouldn’t be selfish. The government should have wise leaders, the world should be at peace and so forth. But the world is as it is at this moment in time and things are as they are. When we don’t understand this then we are struggling. So listen inwardly to yourselves, to the constant crying, ‘I am this way, I am not this way,’ and penetrate this ‘I am, I am not’ with awareness.
We tend to just react and take it for granted that all the ‘I am’ and ‘I am not’ is the truth. We create ourselves as a personality and attach to our memories. We remember the things we learned, we remember what we’ve done – generally the more extreme things; we tend to forget more ordinary things. In meditation we are bringing awareness to the conditions of the mind here and now, just by being aware of this sense of ‘I am, I am not’. The thought ‘I am’ is an impermanent condition. The thought ‘I am not’ is an impermanent condition.
Ajahn Sumedho, Investigating the Mind