I think I might come back. I haven’t posted on here in so long, but I still sometimes find myself thinking in “blog speech” as I’m reconstructing something funny that just happened or silently reviewing an app to myself. I never intended to wander off for so long, but once I left I wasn’t sure how to come back without feeling like the first entry needed to be some kind of big reintroduction, super duper whammy blog post. That’s a lot of pressure and I just don’t see myself as a big whammy kinda gal. Plus, I’ve been plenty busy without adding something new to the mix. It’s not that I’m less busy now, but I am less scheduled and have more opportunity to fit in some writing. Also, I’ve missed it some, and have been surprised by some of the people that mentioned they wished I’d start writing again. That’s nice.
So, my first post-sabbatical blog post- I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of “quieting one’s mind,” and have wondered if the people who can do that have emptier heads, fewer voices, talk slower, or take drugs. Like all these spools, I feel like I have so many things spinning in my head at all times, that I have absolutely no idea how to make my mind be still. The other day I was exhausted and tried to take a nap. I did the thing where you’re supposed to start at your toes and consciously relax them before moving to your feet and then theoretically on up your body, resulting in a completely relaxed (and asleep) person. I tried this for 30 minutes. I never made it above my ankles. I kept having to restart after finding my mind completely NOT focusing on relaxing but instead planning something, solving world problems, or wondering about if I was allowed to move and scratch my left calf.
I just don’t believe I’m meant to be that person. I think no matter what I will always be a person with too many things pulling my attention. My hope is that I can pull at least some of those things together into one place. That’s what I’ll probably think about the next time I’m quieting my mind.
Quieting one’s mind is surely a personal journey, but I found a technique that works for me. I’ve been thinking about it recently because I’ve been trying to explain it to Perrin, who wishes his own mind was quieter in the dark hours.
I have come to my approach from the zen buddhist ideas of soft focus and complete awareness. Interestingly, I do not think it is a concept of reducing noise, rather it is the concept of not giving attention to an individual thought.
Imagine a big, busy fish tank. Perhaps one of those amazing salt water tanks with the fluorescent lights making the fish almost glow. You see a clown fish or a sea anemone and get mesmerized by it for a little while. Along comes a blue tang and you are caught up in the vivid indigo and canary yellow. Each fish that passes is another amazing point of focus. But all the while there is an entire tank that you can see which has movement and sound as a whole, each of these fish a component of that entirety. If you take in the tank at once, it is possible to be aware of individual fish moving, but if you start noticing and focusing on an individual fish, you lose that awareness of the whole.
Your thoughts are the fish, your consciousness is the tank. When a thought comes along, you are aware of it, but you let it float past.
I found my own way to this through doing tai chi. Once I deeply knew the movements of the form, my brain was free to wander during practice. That wandering would distract me and the quality of my practice would diminish. But if I focused on the form, that would make me overthink my movements. In order to advance, I needed soft focus. The fish analogy was what worked for me. I would feel the thought emerge and, as it did, I would attend to the idea of total awareness and feel the non-grasping as the fish floated past.
For me, learning this was about discovering the feeling of maintain awareness of a whole and having the intrusions on that be fleeting. And I really mean “feel”, like a sensation. I think it is something that you can practice on anything you can sense. Something you are looking at, what you hear, or perhaps proprioception. To try it, look at some complete object in your view that is larger than you can focus on in its entirety and then try to continuously take in all of it. Notice how if you then look at a specific piece of it your awareness of the whole diminishes. Focus back on the whole and your focus on the specific piece softens. As you learn to feel that transition, try adding another sense, such as hearing, to what you are aware of, adding it to the whole that you are maintaining. Feel your focus on that previous whole soften. Don’t lose the previous whole, just extend it. That space where everything is of equal attention can be very temporary, but it is what I think you are seeking.
This takes time. It takes practice. And don’t focus too hard on it, just be persistent. For me, this is what meditation is all about.
I don’t know if this will help you find what you are looking for in “quieting” your mind, but it may give you a tool to get where you want to go.
P.S. Welcome back.
Thanks for the “welcome back” and for the thoughts on quieting. I have read your response a number of times and feel like I understand what you’re saying. That is definitely not the same thing as being able to do it. I don’t notice the distraction from my task until I’m absorbed in it. At that point I can let go and “see the bigger tank.” However, since I never saw the thought coming in, it’s hard to watch it float on by. Maybe this is the same kind of self-awareness that’s lacking when I dream (I can’t tell I’m dreaming at the time). I will certainly continue to try what you’re suggesting and see if I can stand back from my thoughts more. If nothing else, it will give me something to do while I’m “resting.” By the way this has been the way I have napped for as long as I can remember; I could never nap in kindergarten either.
So glad you’re back. I love your insights, your humor, and you.