This past Memorial Day weekend, I attended my first silent meditation retreat in Joshua Tree, CA - led by Noah Levine of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. I brought my sketchbook and brush pen because, Joshua Trees. Arriving I learned that I would not be making any drawings in the desert or using my sketch book at all because, meditation. On the last day, after our last sit and dharma talk concluded, the vow of silence ended. With talking (and drawing) no longer prohibited I drew this. It's based on a story that Noah had just shared about a lesson taught to him by his father who was also a meditation teacher. In Noah's story, his father described the way of mindfully watching one's thoughts like the way one might watch a train passing through a vast landscape. It goes like this, at least this is how I remember it. Mindful awareness is like a vast desert landscape and each arising thought is like a train car which, followed by more train cars (more thoughts) form the "train of thoughts" moving, one after the next, as far as the eye can see. In developing concentration and mindfulness one might consider a thought as it arises in the mind, as one might consider a single train car on a passing train. Imagine how you might consider the arising thought. You could acknowledge it, mentally picking it up off the tracks to briefly examine it. The key to maintaining one's mindful awareness is the next step, placing it back on the track where it takes it's place in the train of thought passing away into the distance. Doing otherwise, holding onto the thought for too long, is like jumping aboard that train car, jumping aboard a moving train to be carried off into the distance, lost in thought and away from mindful awareness of the present moment.
I loved the image of this as we sat in the California dessert and it still works for me. When I become lost in thought and wonder where I am this image comes to mind. I take a breath. Feel it. Wiggle my toes and feel that. Feel the expansiveness of the present moment, whatever it is that I am actually experiencing at the time, while gently letting go (jumping off) of the train of thoughts.