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Meditation and taxi-driving

When I first started to meditate, I thought that the point of sitting cross-legged on a cushion was get to a state of “no thought.” I viewed thoughts themselves as a problem — it turns out this is a common misperception for beginning meditators.

It’s true that after some practice, the turbulence in my mind has decreased, but it wasn’t because I found a way to stop thoughts or feelings. I learned that I didn’t need to barricade myself inside a thought-free vacuum. Not at all.

I was lucky to learn meditation from one of the world’s most renowned teachers, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the Tibetan-Nepalese Buddhist teacher and wandering yogi. 

He is best known for his New York Times bestseller The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness and, more recently, for having gone on a four-and-a-half year wandering retreat in India and Nepal, leaving his monastery with just the clothes on his back and meditating for long periods in the caves of the Himalayas but also in the mayhem of India’s busiest cities.

Now that he has returned and started teaching again, students are flocking to see him. Myself included. In May, I went to the Tergar International retreat at St John’s University in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he gave teachings to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists—all of us trying to understand what lies beyond the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that keeps our mind so distracted (and all too-often tormented).

Mingyur Rinpoche told a story about a monk he had known from his youth. That monk had left the monastic life, moved to the United States and was working as a Yellow Cab driver in New York City. Years ago, when Mingyur Rinpoche first taught in New York, the former monk took him around the city in his yellow taxi. Naturally, Rinpoche was curious what a cab driver’s life was like.  

The monk told him:

“Some passengers are cheap, some are generous, some are kind, some talkative, some argue with each other…” Every kind of passenger enters his cab.

“It must be exhausting?” inquired Rinpoche.

“No,” his yellow cab friend answered: “I let them come, and I let them go.” 

Aha, thought Rinpoche, “it is the same with meditation!” And so he told us:

“We are like the yellow cab driver. Thoughts and emotions are like passengers in the car. Some very nice. Some quiet. Some dull. It’s okay. Let them all come, let them all go!” 

I notice when I am doing my meditation that some thoughts are stickier than others and keep showing up in my back seat. They can seduce me and they can pain me. But then I realize my main job is to keep the taxi doors unlocked so no one passenger stays put too long! 

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