This week on our journey to a rejuvenated spirit, we will take a good hard look at our mind. Actually, we won’t “look” at all, because the mind can’t be seen. It also can’t be touched, tasted, smelled or heard. We experience our mind in a way that can only be grasped by ourselves. It is our personal sanctuary, or our personal torment.
Buddhism refers to the untrained mind as a chattering monkey that jumps from branch to branch, ceaselessly moving and making noise. Distracted by endless thoughts, assumptions and perceptions, we go through life as slaves to our mental musings. The mind is selfish. It will never stop trying to get our attention. And we often give in without even realizing it, slipping comfortably into the mind’s control as if it were a pair of slippers. Our bodies, our emotions, our spirits and even hidden thoughts fade into the shadows.
Author and teacher Pema Chödrön said, “Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” And what exactly is “out there”? Simply put, what is “out there” is really “in here.” Our perceptions of the world, ourselves and one another create the reality that we live in. Yet, how many of us take a good look at what perceptions are creating our reality?
The mind may be like a monkey, but it can also feel like a monster. Our thoughts are often painful, confusing or troubling; and these are just the thoughts on the surface. Those that lurk below our consciousness can be even more frightening. Remember those childhood fears of monsters under the bed and ghosts in the closet? All one needed to do was look under the bed skirt to confront the fear. Monsters demand confrontation. There is nothing else to do about them. Likewise, our beliefs can grow more daunting the longer we dodge them. “We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds,” says Chödrön.
If the spirit is to be rejuvenated, the mind can no longer be the “alpha.” This week, we will watch our own minds. As Jane Goodall studied her chimps, we will study the swinging monkeys that are our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and perceptions. We will step back from them and observe without judgment. We will watch how they affect our emotions, our urges and our actions. We will be curious. We will begin to explore the terrain that is us.
In order to begin a journey of rejuvenation, we need a place to retreat and search for guidance. We need a starting point, a foundation. We rely on sources of direction and guidance. Even the best sailor needs a compass. During this lifetime, you will also have a guide – You. I should say, the Real You. The You that presents itself when the mind becomes quiet and quits trying to define who you are.
People call this Real You many things; spirit, soul, conscience, energy, etc. Whatever word you may use, it can only be found by making a commitment to becoming still and quiet and by listening to the wisdom within.
In our society, this seems like a luxury. How does anyone have time to be still and quiet when every day is full of activity? In the American culture, we focus on the health of the physical body. We spend time and money to make ourselves look and feel better; doctors visits, massage, dental work, hair products, gym memberships, and on and on. Emotional and spiritual wellness is equally important, but we don’t seem to realize the importance of spending energy on our souls. If this part of ourselves is overlooked, however, no amount of attention to our physical body will help us feel balanced.
To find rejuvenation, we must commit time and energy to our spirits. We must take a journey to find our true selves. Across many spiritual traditions, this is done with stillness. Finding a time to commit to quiet contemplation is the foundation of this journey. When we develop that foundation, we will find that the peace we find in our quiet time begins to spill out into our everyday life. The Book of Balance and Harmony explains,
“When you are mindful in times of rest, you are observant in times of movement. If you have self-mastery in times of rest, you can be decisive in times of movement…Rest is the foundation of movement, movement is the potential of rest.”
A time of stillness is essential for growing rejuvenation.
We make allowances every day for things that have become habits for us; brushing our teeth, reading the paper, making coffee, or watching our favorite shows. To find stability, our time of stillness must become a daily habit. Even ten minutes a day can begin to shift the course of our lives. So what do you do during ten minutes of stillness? For now, do just that. Be still. Be quiet. Watch your mind. Our task is to find a time to devote to this journey and to simply spend ten minutes being alone with ourselves.
In later posts, we will explore ways to quiet the mind and find more stillness. For now, find your compass. Commit to making this journey a living reality.
In counseling, we talk about people being “stretched” by their willingness to engage in an exploration of themselves. The word “stretched” indicates that two opposite ends are being pulled in two opposite directions. So, what do we mean when we talk about being stretched?
One of the premises of yoga is being able to notice pairs of opposites – both in the body and in the mind. Yogis pay attention to polarities, noticing their relationship to one another. Dialectical Behavior Therapy also helps clients notice and accept opposites, and to strive to maintain a balance between them. We label things as “good” and “bad,” “right” and “wrong,” “happy” and “sad,” but there is a magnetic pole between those pairs of opposites, making them dependent on one another and not mutually exclusive. Opposites can both be true at the same time. Getting a new job can be both “good” and “bad” at the same time. What is important, is noticing the relationship between the opposites, not the labels.
Trees are an excellent metaphor. A tree roots itself deep in the ground. In fact, this is the first thing it does as a seedling; it begins to explore the deep underneath. As it grows, it continues to reach downward, seeking nourishment and finding stability. If a tree does not reach down into that depth, it will die. A tree also grows upward. It spreads itself high and wide and produces incredible beauty as well as nourishment and protection for others. This tree continues its growth in opposite directions for its entire lifespan because it needs both to survive.
We, too, need this opposite growth. If we focus only on grounding and settling, we may miss out on personal growth, mystery, discovery and giving to others. If we focus only on expanding, we may lack the stability of knowing who we are and making decisions.
Where do you tend to put your time, attention and energy? What would change for you if you sought to balance yourself, to stretch, to embody the wisdom of a tree?
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.