When I first began watching the thoughts that came through my mind I was astonished at how little useful substance they had. Then I started noticing that if I followed thoughts they often created “problems” where there were none.
I began to experiment with this is in my life by paying attention to small details of my day. If I was making the bed, a task I enjoy immensly if I pay attention when I do it, a thought might come through that said “hurry up, you’ll be late.” If I listened to that thought, or followed that thought, then all of a sudden I wasn’t just making the bed and enjoying the feel of the fabrics on my hand, or the morning light shining through the window, I was anxiously making the bed, hurrying and stumbling through the process, my mind on what was next rather than what was now.
Later I’d be cleaning dishes, “That’s not good enough, do it over.” If I believed it and looked closely at the pot and saw a smear that I missed or an old stain that had settled into the pot’s enamel, I’d suddenly be getting out the cleaning supplies and starting a pot cleaning project that could last me an hour. These are simple concrete examples but I’ve found them to be the most profound teachers because I learned that they applied to just about everything in my life.
With some time watching my thoughts, I noticed a pattern to what my mind had to say. The specific content would change but the general message was almost always either: “hurry up” OR “do it better.” This applied to conversations with people in my life, relationships, work projects, exercise, you name it.
I was familiar with the idea that there were different voices of criticism, judgment, or praise in my own mind. What I wasn’t familiar with was the idea that I had a choice about whether or not to believe what those voices had to say. In the past I’d always heard those thoughts and listened, now I began to question their validity in the first place. This was a slow gentle process. There were plenty of times when I believed the thoughts, “hurry up, no good, you are late, you are…” and found myself needlessly rushing, pushing, or anxious, but with time and the fact that the thoughts, though different in exact content, were saying almost exactly the same thing over and over with different words, I began to find some freedom. It was stunning in its simplicity.
Meditation, that old friend that I found during a grief-filled divorce, continued to be an incredible teacher. After my divorce I did not continue meditating regularly. Once my crisis moment passed I abandoned it until I got my homework assignment from our first women’s group–mediate for five minutes everyday. This seemed really easy. “5 minutes,” I thought, “that’s nothing!”
In fact it was at first incredibly challenging. I was amazed by how hard it was to have the discipline to sit still for five minutes daily. There was always something more urgent, pressing, or fun to do. However, once I conquered the hurdle of whatever reasons my mind came up with for why I should not sit still, I loved it. 5 minutes quickly grew to 10, 10 to 15, and 15 to 20 or 30.
I learned that I loved being still and alone every morning. Everyday I sat quietly with a cup of coffee to wake up, read a chapter from a wise book, and then set my alarm for mediation. The most wonderful part of meditating within the instructions of my women’s group, was that it was not complicated. I’d been turned off in the past to the idea of meditation because I thought it tied to a religious practice and therefore to a strict set of rules. Jennifer, my teacher, invited me to: “Just sit still and let what happens happen.”
Her instructions were so simple, in fact, that my mind had a lot of questions about exactly what I should be doing during that time. I’d read about meditation and had a lot of ideas about what was supposed to happen, or not happen, or how long, or how to sit or what to sit on, or how to begin and how to end or…
No matter my questions, Jennifer just invited me to sit quietly and comfortably, with a straight supported spine and “let what happens happen.” After some months of frenzied and difficult meditation, during which I tried to do things right–whatever right was that day–I slowly I let go of my preconceived notions about meditation and began to trust the practice of meditation itself. Gradually that quiet stillness inside, that I found by chance in my backyard years earlier, revealed itself again.
It is this quiet stillness that I mean when I say “follow your heart,” or “listen to your intuition.” It’s always been here, and remains here now, but it gets covered up easily by noise, activity, anxiety, worry, and perceptions of what should happen in everyday life. I give myself these instructions on a daily basis.
I am slowly learning to release thoughts and perceptions about what is happening in my everyday experience, to follow instead the stillness that let’s life unfold. I’m reminded and humbled everyday by the difference in my quality of life when I live from jumpy and erratic thoughts that float through my head, or from the quiet stillness inside.