Keeping the Gremlins at Bay
See if this rings true for you? You’ve just got off a telephone call or are out of a meeting where something was said to you that felt like a blow to the solar plexus. However, you barely have time to come up for air and take stock of the situation when your schedule calls you to your next appointment.
So you are sitting in your next appointment trying to stay focused on the people and task at hand, but that last conversation is banging at the door and won’t leave you alone. How do you handle this situation until you have time to give the troublesome conversation your attention?
and the worms ate into your brain.
That unhappy line is followed by sounds that perfectly conjure up the image of something niggling away at your mind, insidiously aggravating you with its presence. A mass of wriggling worms feels to me like the perfect analogy (with all due respect to worms).
The world of mindfulness and Buddhist meditation speaks a lot about being present to now, to what is going on in the present moment. We are advised that, “the past has gone, the future is yet to come, now is the knowing.” This is sound advice and bears constant reflection. It is easy to discount its wisdom as it is not an easy instruction to live by. However, whether it is easy or not is not reason to discard it. Some of what is most worthwhile requires of us our deepest effort. That being said, when there has been a deep blow to us the best laid plans can seem a distant stretch. At such times we can easily find ourselves craving distractions of assurance and comfort over trying to keep the noises at bay.
Sharing an experience
Earlier this week I had an experience similar to what I have described here. I put the phone down feeling winded, sent an email to a friend just to share and offload, and then headed to my qigong class. Engaging in a meditative exercise certainly helped. It was easier to cope with than a busy meeting, but I was still yearning for some alone time to process the worms that were eating into my brain. As we moved on with the class, and as the noise from the phone call crept into my mind, I kept bringing myself back to the qigong practice. That noise after all was just a series of thoughts, given substance by the attention that I gave to them. Slowly the noises quietened. They never completely went away, although there were moments when I forgot about the call as I became more focused on the qigong. That in itself shows that the mental voices only react to the power that we give to them.
With the class over I could feel the ripples from my earlier call build again, and I went home to reflect on its implications. But the words also made me reflect on the words of the eighth century Indian Buddhist saint Shatideva who said,
There is nothing at all which cannot become easier through practice.
Meditation can be a deceptive practice. The instruction is simple yet the practice requires commitment and perseverance to experience the results. Meditation is not an escape into a quiet world (though at times there might be good reason to use it for that). Rather it is a familiarization with a world that many of us do not visit, our own minds. It is a familiarization with and retraining for how we interact with what arises in the mind.
Aided with a motivation or reason for being on the cushion, with time you can start to experience the workable nature of the mind. The worms might still knock at the door of your brain, but you realize that you don’t have to let them in. Acknowledge them, say “Hi,” and let them go on their merry way. This starts on your cushion but with time and familiarization this practice creeps into your daily life. You are deepening your awareness and creating new habits in your mind. These efforts are felt in your own life and ripple out into the world around you.