I am rereading “When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron. Although nothing is falling apart in a dramatic way, nor am I going through a difficult time, I began the book again as the result of simply dusting. I picked up the book and began to flip through it as I recalled it was helpful at a previous juncture in my life and that there is mention of mindfulness and meditation which have captured my interest of late. I had highlighted one of the pieces of advice to help with the meditative process of emptying the mind and becoming fully present in the moment which is to catch oneself when a thought creeps in with the phrase, “just thinking”.
The point is that thoughts are not reality, but are just thinking. That we might change them into something concrete, through analysis and planning, no doubt. But in the moment they are nothing more and nothing less than just thinking. So often that thinking is worrying or trying to come up with a solution to a perceived problem that may in fact exist only in thought. Staying focused and centered in the moment requires turning off the internal chatter, letting go of the notion of control, and yes, letting things fall apart.
Falling apart is what happens, it is how life works. In all manner of things, falling apart and coming back together is the cycle of life. In my garden the items in the compost bin are falling apart, only to come back together as compost to give new life and energy to the soil growing my vegetables. Once harvested, the spent plants and trimmings return to the compost bin to start the cycle anew. It is the same with our lives. Some things become spent and yet do not disappear, they take on a new and different value in our lives. Perhaps the spent bit; a relationship, a job, an old stomping ground; will nourish us for the next round of these things. But to try to hang on to last year’s tomato plant in the hopes it will produce again next year is not only folly but denies the garden the nutrients needed to grow and prosper in the future.
Our “thinking” is a way of trying to hang on to what is spent, attempting to pull the past forward into the present. “Being” is difficult in a society so invested in intellect and thought. Yet in those moments of just being, mindful of one’s surroundings and senses we rediscover time and again, our true selves. As I dig one shovelful after another of rocks large and small, untangle the grass and weed roots from the dirt, I can let myself and my thinking drift away and only be aware of the hot sun on my back, the strength in my legs and arms as I work, marveling at the earthworms in the rocky sandy dirt that will someday be soil. The state of grace of just being in the world instead of feeling batted about by a torrent of thoughts that I came to associate with being “me” is profound and enriching.
Finding this center, this quiet place, requires a realignment of habit. Turning off the internal chatter to connect with the moment takes practice and constant reminder. The mantra, when one finds themselves becoming enmeshed in a problem to which there is no solution, pulling thoughts from here and there to create a different reality, is “just thinking”. And adding the further reminder that thoughts are not real, can bring one back to mindfulness of the present and grounded in the peaceful knowledge that everything is changing all the time, falling apart and coming back together, and while we are a part of the process, our only responsibility is to notice.