The mind is an active beast.
I heard this at a meditation retreat a few weeks ago as I sat cross-legged, attempting to shut off my mind. The room was silent, serene, and lit romantically, with high ceilings and comfortable pads. It was neither too hot nor too cold, and the sky outside was white and misty. In other words, it was an excellent environment to “meditate.”
All I needed to do was turn off my thoughts. I spent the first five minutes dodging thoughts, warding them off as soon as they flew in. I was so focused on shutting off this “active beast” that suddenly the words “don’t think don’t think don’t think” were playing on repeat in my head. It was exhausting, and frankly, very boring.
Eventually a new thought came in; strong enough to overpower the Don’t Think mantra, telling me to resign to the powerful rush of fragmented, disheveled array of thoughts that were pushing so hard to be heard. So I did. I don’t know how long I sat there, and as time became lost, so did I—in my head.
Now, have you ever sat on the edge of the ocean? Some days, you can almost feel the power of the waves as they peak, crest, and fall, surging at you with such ferocity that you don’t think they can possibly be sucked back in, back where they came from. Some days, they are slow moving, softly lapping, purring in and out. But the waves never stop.
Sometimes the same water may get recycled; the same salt particles are whisked to the shore, and then sucked back, for they remain near the surface of the ocean. These particles are connected to other particles, and different combinations of particles are always intertwined, twirling together towards the shore. These particles are what connect the entire ocean to itself: the farther out from shore you go, the deeper it gets. The more time you spend sitting and watching the waves, the greater variety of particles you’re able to see.
The problem is, we don’t spend enough time waiting for the new particles to show up; we’re impatient, busy, distracted by one another. We don’t allow ourselves to the see the depths of our minds, the capacity of these thoughts. Instead we settle into routines, making dinner plans, agonizing over papers, pouring over the thoughts of others.
By the end of the five hours I had spent on the meditation retreat, I felt myself a different person, centered in a way I had not felt before. Yet slowly, as the rest of the day began to play out, as I began to make plans and obligations, the intensity of my thoughts dissipated, and my mind grew number.
In meditation, the point is to turn off that active beast, to not think. Perhaps this is already being done, every day, unknowingly.