The air strikes in Syria, the Ebola crisis, polar bears watching their world melt around them, standing on blocks of ice the size of a studio apartment in Manhattan. The headlines feed our frustration, rage, or helplessness. It’s important to stay informed about the outer world, that goes without saying. But it’s even more important to stay informed about the inner world. To watch the “mind show” (what we think and how we feel about it) the way we might watch a favorite TV.
Think of your favorite show. Doesn’t matter if it’s crime, comedy, cooking or crazy people. Whatever it is, it takes you away from your reality for a while, but you still have to eventually return to your life. I’m inviting you to try something different. Try sitting down every morning to the real show, the one in your mind. Think of it as your favorite show, because it is. And then, just watch what your mind comes up with. Rehashing of yesterday or 40 years ago? Notice it. Worry about tomorrow? Disturbing images? Just notice. No pushing away, no hanging on. Replaying a conversation you wish had gone differently–making it worse, making it better, looping how it went over and over…no judgment, just watch. The more you do this, the less freaked out you get by your mind.
Psst. It never ends. This thinking? It goes on forever, there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is stop resisting, reaching for, or trying to control it.
This is what meditation is.
I used to think that if I meditated enough, or prayed enough, I would end up with a peaceful, perfectly quiet mind, all stillness and compassion. Anne Lamott set me straight on this. In her book, “Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith”, she reassures me that this ideal state doesn’t exist. It’s just more perfectionism, making me feel “not enough.” Together, Lamott and I turn away from it, and she leads me to an alternate vision of what grace might look like: sitting, and watching my sometimes unsuccessful attempts at kindness, my hilarious failed attempts at courage or surrender or both, and then getting up every morning anyway, sitting, and watching the mind show all over again. Gaining ground, losing ground. In The Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot writes: “. . . But perhaps neither gain nor loss./ For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
Let this sink in for a while.
“For us, there is only the trying.”
We don’t have to be enlightened. We can just be. And the mind we’ve been tyrannized by, arguing with, diminishing, or ignoring…it doesn’t have to quiet down or think better thoughts. It’s just thoughts, and we can watch them go by. We can breathe with compassion, and for a moment, see the light that’s been shining in and around us all along.
“The rest is not our business.”