2018 was a heck of a year. Over and over again, I looked at the news and social media, and even at happenings within my own life and the lives of people around me and wondered “WTF???”
Perhaps you know what I mean?
When I start to get that “WTF” feeling, I know that it is my mind creating friction in me by wanting things to be different than they are, because goodness knows, the world is changing at what seems like light speed, and I sometimes find myself resisting, getting frustrated, and as a result not being very healthy on any level.
A dear friend recently sent me a photo of a scrappy bit of paper, which had a message that I handwritten for him many years ago. This time I am sure that the message was a boomerang reminder for me:
“Return always to the stillness and the silence. There you will find everything.”
This message repeated itself over and over again amidst the perceived craziness of 2018. Again and again, I returned to the stillness in myself to find that, despite all of our seemingly individual efforts to make and act and create what we “want” in life, we are actually carried in each and every moment. Always.
What exactly is it that carries us?
Well, that is the question that shows up the limitations of language. That Which Carries Us is what inspired the poets Rumi and Hafiz to write about as “The Beloved”. In some traditions it is known as 'Presence', in others 'Fullness', in still others it is called 'Emptiness'. Some choose to call it God.
Whatever the name our minds choose to give, the 'thing which carries us' is all of IT. There is nothing that is not IT. IT is the light of the sun, which illumines the world, and the light of our own consciousness; which illumines our own minds and bodies and gives us this experience of being alive. IT’s intelligence is so brilliant and vast that our minds cannot even begin to grasp or conceive.
Why is it that we have such a hard time pinpointing in language this mysterious, invisible force, which is so subtle and yet so powerful? Because our ideas about our lives and the world we live in are created by our minds. The meaning in our lives is simply a story told by our minds by the signals from our senses, as it filters through the lens of our past. That’s it.
But what is it that carries us is beyond all that?
We cannot speak about it because the language we use is a construct of the mind, and what we are trying to explain is beyond mind, beyond thought, and thus also beyond what language can encompass. We can try to explain it through poetry, through little articles like this one, through symbolism and metaphors, but these forms never really touch the reality of what they are trying to explain.
It is something that is only ever experienced. And only through experience will we truly know and understand. The ironic thing is that this ‘thing that can’t be explained’ is there and happening all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. It’s there in every breath, every smile, every teardrop, every wave that crashes in the sand, everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and feel on every level. It is there in every hello and every goodbye.
And like a fish swimming around, wondering where the stuff called “water” can be found, we search and search for answers and fulfilment as something to attain at some future time, when really the “water” which we seek is around us and in us all the time, right here now.
The paradox is that it is beyond our sensory perception, and yet we need to have a body and a discerning mind in order to be able to know it. This is why traditions like yoga and meditation work with the body and mind to create awareness and slow down the ultimate storytelling process of our overactive minds so that we can truly know this indescribable presence and rest our attention in it, even through the perceived chaos of our everyday external circumstances.
The experience of right now
The only way to perceive this is to have our attention fully in the experience of right now. Our attention is in the past the instant the mind starts to label, describe, compare, strategize, or judge. So a great first step is to notice when this happens. When you first open your eyes in the morning, whether to the sound of an alarm, the birds outside in the trees, or the light of the sun shining through your window, just notice. Notice the sounds, the sights, all the things that arise in your experience as you open your eyes.
Then see if you can notice the instant your mind jumps in with a story… about how you don’t want to get up yet, all the things you have to do today, that conversation you are dreading having, your taxes or retirement fund…notice how these thoughts shape your experience in a moment that simply consists of opening your eyes and experiencing what is there.
There is huge wisdom in the noticing because it creates space between what is right here now, and the barrage of thoughts, which then shape the flavour of the experience you have of this very moment.
Periodically during each day, it is a great exercise to ask yourself
“Where is my attention right now?”
And if your attention is pulled in a million different directions, or if it has drifted into a story that is unhelpful for your wellbeing or the wellbeing of those around you, then take a moment to take your attention by the hand and lovingly guide it to your breath.
See if you can follow your breath for one full cycle, fully experiencing the subtle qualities of your breath. If your mind jumps in with a story about your breath or anything else, let it happen. Let it happen, but as if it's a television on in the back of the room… jabbering away, as the deeper part of you simply feels and experiences your breath without label, description, or story.
With practise, these simple techniques can bring us back to the knowing of the sacredness in every breath we take, the brilliance of every heartbeat, and we begin to re-connect with a sacredness of living that goes beyond what words can describe.
It is a time when the power of the human mind is at a critical stage. With so many distractions in the world today, it is important to remember that it is the stillness and silence within ourselves that hold all the answers we seek, whether the question is “Where the heck did I leave the keys?” or “where can I find true and lasting happiness?”
Every single day. Stay aware and alert to where your attention is. Take time to re-centre and rest your attention (at least a few threads of it!) in the stillness that is who you are, deeper than mind and body and external circumstance. And let your thoughts, actions, and experiences arise with wisdom from that stillness.
And allow yourself to be carried by it.
For 2019, I wish love, joy, wonder and wisdom for all.
In each moment.
Just as it is.