“In the space of the mind, where it can open its wings, is the silence.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Don’t we all have a deep longing for inner peace? For a home within or beyond ourselves that is truly good and greater than we are? Some may call it God, some belonging, others religion, belief, or buddhanature … we have many names for it. Whatever name we call it, where can we find it? How can we enjoy the stillness of this place?
Each time I sit down to meditate I notice that I move through different phases. First there is a lot of busyness in body and mind. After I have “found my seat” regardless of what is happening, I notice where I am and the quiet around me, and by body calms down. My thoughts might still wander, but with time I see more and more what is here and now.
Our minds are always falling into busyness. In the morning, before the new day starts, my mind often bursts into activity. In the evening after my work is done, my mind is often still full of impressions, as if digesting them. The tendency is to be busy, but very close to this is a longing for peace and relaxation.
If I have a gap in activity I try to take a real break. Oftentimes, though I have a break, I don’t really allow myself to take a break. According to the mind, there is always a lot to do! Always I have a reason to do something, even if I’m already doing something—like eating. I eat and my thoughts circle around what has just been, or travel to what’s coming next. But when eating I like to allow my mind to really take a break and get nourished, too. So I sit, I see what is, I drink, and I eat. After that I just sit again. I notice how the warmth of the meal slowly spreads through my body. Often my mind gets a bit sleepy for a while.
Coming to one place
We can think that our mind should be calm and still when we are relaxing or meditating. But allowing the mind to simply notice its movements can be relaxing in itself. Without effort, we can just feel, breathe consciously, just be aware. The body and mind can “come to one place,” with no separate head-story going on. Then we are able to begin an integrated kind of being, maybe just to look out of the window; or to “be” in a coffee shop; to simply eat lunch; or to meditate, thinking little of it.
If we allow body and mind to come together, then we are aware of both of them at once. We notice more and more of our sensations and thoughts as they come and go. Within our mind, content arises incessantly: thoughts, feelings, memories, wishes, self-talk, pain, sensations of all kinds. This happens no matter what we are doing. Meditating, we just notice more of it. Naturally, seamlessly, we slowly move into meditation.
Field of Attention
Most people imagine a peaceful space to be found in meditation, but actually, in meditation we also encounter a field of tension. We naturally move between too much and too little attention, between nervous states and sleepy ones. Like tuning a stringed instrument to the right pitch, our mind becomes clear and bright with the right dose of tension. Intensity of attention is not all-good in itself; just as important is the way we react to whatever is. When we notice having lost our focus, how friendly or harshly do we react to it? Listening carefully, in no rush, like tuning a beloved instrument—that’s how we find the right pitch. With proper tuning, mind and body come together more and more until there is no separation.
Depending on which practice we chose, a certain dose of tension and relaxation is already built into it. Important is that our practice helps us find the right tone. Do you practice in a way that is beneficial to you? It can be difficult to find a continuity of effort that is not too tight or loose. These are questions we can clarify individually with a good teacher.
Each year for me, the long evenings of Autumn are perfect times to sit. I enjoy the progression of the year, the moving into peaceful darkness sparked by colorful lights. Have a beautiful week in the time of the holidays!