The late Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa once said, “The spiritual path is insult after insult,” and that became more clear as I began to meditate. What I found most disturbing, even embarrassing, especially during my first few meditation retreats, was that my mind so often insisted on singing to me. I would be sitting there meditating, and suddenly, triggered by a random image or thought, a song would start up and begin playing over and over again inside my head. Other meditators have reported similar musical intrusions, which might be called “jukebox karma.”

Often I could stay aware of my breath and yet still hear a song playing faintly in the background of my mind, as if some inner DJ was trying to offer me some music to meditate by. But instead of new-age meditation music, I was getting pop songs, the ones with strong hooks, such as “Rollin’ on a river . . .” or “We all live in a yellow submarine. . . .” I would try my hardest to turn off the songs, but like an irritating drunk singing out in the street, my mind refused to stop.

Sometimes, mercifully, the song that arose in my head was one that appeared on an album side that was familiar to me. Then at least I would get some variety in my mental playlist—as my mind played through the rest of the songs on the album side! Sometimes it would even flip the album over and play through the second side. “Good day, sunshine. . . .” These pop songs were little sutras about the personal dramas of life, usually about losing, winning, or looking for love.

Seeing the independent, rebellious nature of one’s mind can be especially disturbing to someone from our culture, where we identify so thoroughly with our mind’s contents. We not only believe that we generate and control all of our own thoughts, we also have come to believe that those thoughts define us, almost exclusive of anything else. In our culture, heads are us!

What happened as I listened to my mind singing and thinking and running on without me was that I began to doubt that I was my mind. I became aware that my mind has a mind of its own.

From The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom, © 2003 by Wes Nisker. Reprinted with permission of HarperSanFrancisco.

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