Just Thinking

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.

Wisdom

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” ~ Saint Augustine

I have tried to imagine the face of wisdom.  The image I see is a person of enormous calm and reserve, taking in everything, yet slow to offer comment.  Storing knowledge and experience for later use with caution and proper timing, the wise being of my imagination uses their experience to facilitate foresight and takes time to carefully consider consequences.  Taking mindfulness out of time and space and placing oneself in the past, the present and the future to see most clearly.

This is a patient person, waiting watchfully for events to unfold; unhurried by the immediate demands with an eye to the overarching impact of an action.  Words chosen with consideration and mindful of their impact, my imagined sage sees time as its companion and equal, not driving the moment but walking in unison. With measured thoughts and words, comes insight.  Learning from each experience, the knowing among us carefully build understanding and exercise a judicious habit of action.

Developing a way about us that allows wisdom to evolve requires slowing in all things.  Observing and listening, contemplating and considering, holding a thought until it can be examined with care before acting; all change the pace and the results.  Practice editing by speaking little and absorbing more.  Build up patience to give an idea chance to mature.

Wisdom comes not with age, but from a way of being.  Stillness and silence gives wisdom a garden in which to grow, whether you are 18 or 81.  Quiet your heart, quiet your mind and let the wisdom around you take root and flourish.

Comparisons

“If God had not made brown honey, men would think figs far sweeter than they do.”   ~Xenophanes

It is in our nature to compare, we use the technique often to make judgements and decisions.  We compare prices when we shop, we compare the features of a car or appliance to decide which one will be the best for our use.  Because it is an habitual way of thinking, it is often applied to people as well.  The problem lies in the myriad of “features” that come with each person, and to weigh one against another is opening oneself to the risk of overlooking traits absent in one or another.

The measure of comparing a human is against one’s own moral beliefs, tastes, interests and peccadilloes.  To hold one person up against the other we may develop mis-information, but to evaluate  whether a person is an asset to our lives we must observe how they fit one’s way of being.  It demands of us that we look more deeply and carefully than we would if we were to say, “he is kinder, she is more generous”.  It is the whole and not the sum of the parts of a person that we must come to know.

Being judgemental has the connotation of being unfair, yet relying on judgement to make choices and to discern the value and importance of each factor is vital in making good choices for one’s best interest.  Weighing instead against life experience rather than another person, we gain the essence of someone, and the way they might fit with us or that in fact, there are critical elements missing that we recognize we cannot do without.

Remaining mindful that comparisons have their place, and taking care to use them only when necessary, we avoid the distressing and happiness stripping habit of holding up unlike things against each other.  To be fully in the moment requires letting go of the past moments and choosing to savor whatever this one has to offer.  Developing the ability to stay present, using judgement to make good choices, and comparison for buying a new washing machine, gives us the tools to be kind to ourselves and find our way to the people and moments that will enrich our lives.

What Remains?

“All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish.”  William James

These words could be construed as the mutterings of a bitter old man, with a purely naturalistic view of life.  They are, when taken in the context of “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, presented as an example of the “sick soul”, a soul that cannot find the ease of living, forever searching and striving to discover some value, some greater worth than that which one possesses.  In the same piece James quotes Edward Everett Hale, “I can remember perfectly that when I was coming to manhood, the half-philosophical novels of the time had a deal to say about the young men and maidens who were facing ‘the problem of life.’ I had no idea whatever what the problem of life was. To live with all my might seemed to me easy; to learn where there was so much to learn seemed pleasant and almost of course; to lend a hand, if one had a chance, natural; and if one did this, why, he enjoyed life because he could not help it, and without proving to himself that he ought to enjoy it…”, as an example of what James calls the healthy-minded.  He acknowledges that there are degrees of healthy-mindedness and sickness of soul; and concludes that the sick soul has the more overlapping perceptions of reality.

Does this mean then that we should turn away from greater happiness, that we give up on the hope for a joyful existence to live a “real” life?  There is room in the mix for a respectful acknowledgement of evil, sadness, fear, loss, and all the elements the “sick soul” tends to dwell upon, without becoming consumed with the “problem of life”.  When it seems that all in life has the potential to eventually fade away, what is it that we might hold on to in the face of the inevitable loss?

When indeed all the material is gone, youth and health have fled, we are left with memories.  The memories of a lifetime of choices and chances taken; of seizing the moment to run free, making time for the joyous bounding adventures.  Memories of the people we have known, those we have helped and who have helped us; memories of tenderness, kindness and expressions of love.  Our fully integrated self has stored these and more in our bodies as well as our minds, and until both completely fail we retain the ability to remember, not just thoughts, but emotions and the physical sensations of those cherished moments.

As we are mindful today, we are filling the storehouse of our bodies and souls with the thing that lingers; that which holds far greater value than the car driven, the title or letters following names, the balance in the bank.  Let the thing that lingers fill our vessel with the sweetness and the treasures of a celebratory life.

Waxing Philisophical

It occurred to me that I have done very little reading in contemporary philosophical thinking and to that end I availed myself of the trusty online catalog of my local library to see what was out there that might introduce me to new ideas or new spins on old ideas if you are of the school, ” there is nothing new under the sun”.

First up is Phillip Shepherd’s “New Self New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-First Century”.  Having only worked my way through the Forward by Andrew Harvey and the Introduction and first chapter by the author, this is not a book review by any means.  If I am following correctly the main concept is to seek wholeness, within ourselves and with our connections with the outer world.  In order to accomplish this he believes that it comes through the work of the body, that we need to “get out of our heads”.

As much as the word mindfulness sounds like a “head” word it is very much a body word.  Learning to pay attention to one’s body can give a volume of information that helps identify placement in the present space and time.  Chosing to pay attention to the sensory input and the bodily response to it is a step on the road the wholeness.  The fully integrated self, in tune and in harmony with the inner and outer world, especially the physical senses, gravitates to wholeness.  It is the center of all life to seek completion of the whole, reproduction, the yin and yang, to and fro.  No joy comes without knowing sorrow, no honest tears flow without having laughed with abandon.

The exercises from https://cathrinemclaren.com/2012/03/06/loose-ends/ of H.A.L.T. and S.I.F.T. are a great way to get in touch with where one is in the moment.  It can be used as it is in Loose Ends, to identify the cause for emotional eating; but it has far broader applications in the practice of mindfulness.  When lost in one’s head it is easy to ignore the basics; often something as simple as addressing physical fatigue or hunger can transport one from sorrow and frustration to a more realistic view of the issue at hand.  Continuing to practice mindfulness as a strategy for getting out of one’s thoughts and moving towards body awareness begins the unification process of wholeness.