How Stillness is Expressed Mentally
You look across at the clock, it’s 3am. You are wide awake, you have been for an hour or so. Your thinking has taken control and is holding you hostage to one particular fear or worry. It appears that there is nothing you can do to be free of the thought. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and the older you get, the more it seems to occur. Money, relationships, work commitments and health issues are pretty common themes. You might eventually fall asleep from exhaustion, only to wake a few hours later feeling wrung out at the start of the day.
Worry and fear also consume hours throughout your day, just as they did through the night. Loneliness, rejection, worthlessness, inadequacy, guilt, grief and shame all make the idea of mental stillness something of a mirage. You can see it, and desire it, but as you move forward it retreats, always illusive.
Every day we each have 24 hours, 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds in which to ‘spend’ our thinking. Like all of our other personal resources, we typically spend our thinking time on what we love or fear most, what we desire or seek to avoid most. For example, if you desired inner peace, you would be familiar with various meditation (and maybe yoga) practices. You would also understand that forgiveness would be a primary function of thought, so you would have an expanded understanding of forgiveness. You would be engaged in enhancing your awareness in order to bring more depth to living mindfully. You would have clarity about your noble purpose, which would channel your thinking along your chosen form of service.
If you desired material or social success, you would have learnt strategies for building wealth or the appearance of wealth. Your every thought is about how to achieve success, and of course, that would be based on your definition of success. To some that might be about how much money you have in the bank. To others it might be about the car(s) you drive, your appearance of your house and being in ‘the right’ suburb. It might include your social circle or the types of clothes you wear. Some of you might be familiar with “The Real Housewives of…” series on TV that beautifully depicts how minds function that are centred on material and social success.
But what if you were more aligned with avoiding your fears. A common one is the fear of rejection. This is a mind that can become obsessed with the notion that one or more people (often a potential lover) will be added to the list of people that have rejected them throughout their life. They will spend hours throughout a day obsessed with their personal worthlessness and will even venture into severe mental judgements about being faulty, ugly or dumb for example. They will fantasise about what things could have been like and then become angry and judgemental towards the other person for rejecting them. Days and weeks are wasted being consumed by their negative and defeating thoughts. Of course the fear of rejection is the flip side of a desperate desire to be loved, unconditionally.
It is in the understanding of what you desire most that can transform your ‘monkey mind’, as described by the Buddhists, to a still mind. The Buddhists taught the mindfulness practice called meditation, which is now very popular throughout the West. As it is typically practiced in the West, mediation is essentially a gym for the mind. It’s virtues are the focus of much research now and it, along with mindfulness, are being justified by the scientific world. Many practitioners of meditation, novices through to devotees, swear of its efficacy. But like exercising the physical body, a common hurdle appears; sustainability. People typically start meditating and really enjoy it, but a crisis happens or a change in routine occurs and the commitment is lost. People find themselves back living stressful lives with its associated suffering.
Buddha taught in his Four Noble Truths that we suffer because of what we are attached to. I have observed that what we are attached to arises from what we desire most. At EAP, we observed that your core desire is a consequence of a belief about yourself that emerged in your formative years, sometimes referred to as ‘your story’. We call it your ‘life sentence’, both because it can be typically summed up in one sentence and also because you are imprisoned by it throughout your whole life.
For example, you could have a belief that ‘life is mostly unfair’. Things may have occurred in your childhood that saw you suffering because of one or more experiences of injustice or being taken advantage of. That thought of it being unfair becomes so seamlessly woven into your consciousness that it has become subconscious. Of course your self-fulfilling prophecy keeps turning up in your life, and it’s like a magnet that attracts people who take advantage of you or who are unjust. The drama that unfolds from your life sentence sees your mind being filled with judgement and fear. And of course, there is no possible way that your mind can find stillness. As much as learning mediation might help you to experience moments of freedom and stillness, like the mirage, it becomes illusive and you struggle to maintain the practice.
The key is to become aware of your life sentence, and in becoming aware of it, see how it has both served and not served you throughout your life. Change is the consequence of awareness, not in trying to fix things. The temptation is to want to fix your life sentence, where all that is needed is to stay in awareness of it. In awareness you come to the realisation that you have a life sentence, but that you are not your life sentence. In fact, it’s like realising that your child self, who possesses the life sentence is the puppeteer and you the adult is the puppet with strings pulled by the child. How does that serve you?
It is my understanding that when you are caught up in your story, you cannot be in stillness. And inversely, when you can live in stillness, you are no longer contained by your life sentence. Your mind it typically fully aligned with your sentence, and it is that association that results in the monkey mind that Buddha referred. As previously discussed, when you can stay in awareness long enough to be the witness of your life sentence, no longer confined by it, you find yourself in a parallel reality, free from the suffering created by your mind. Stillness is the natural state of the mind when it is without attachment to the life sentence. As the adage goes, you can’t change what you can’t see. To find mental stillness you first have to recognise what it is that you desire most – and that comes from your life sentence.
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