• Cultivating a Quiet Mind

    by Lori Landau

    I’m sitting in my favorite chair, looking out at the foothill of the mountains that are so close to my house, I can see the individual trees and rocks that create the sloping hills.

    The sun has come out after three days of dense fog and rain, and the sky is blue and puffy with lacey white clouds. My kids are at school: a whole day stretches out before me. I want to appreciate the calm, to use the time to daydream and read and regroup, but I’m having a hard time. Instead, I’m thinking about “the list,” all of the things I need to accomplish before pick-up. I have holiday gifts to shop for, dinner to plan, notes that I have to make for a talk I’m giving at the closing reception for my art show at the New York Open Center tonight.

    My mind is noisy with a constant tide of thoughts, and based on what I’ve been reading lately, I’m not the only person — or thing — experiencing the impact of a rising collective din. According to the New York Times, it’s even become too loud in the deepest depths of the oceans, due to a rising assault of human-made sounds within the seas.

    Not surprisingly, the sonar blasts, gas explosions and other noise pollution is dangerous, and scientists have started to map the range of frequencies of man-made noise in the oceans in order to protect the fragile ecosystem and return it to a quieter state. And self-help experts say we should be doing the same. But we live in a world where things are moving faster and faster. Our national currency seems to be productivity rather than inner peace. Our own frequencies are thrumming.

    That low-level vibration of anxiety in turn, is creating self-destructive patterns of thought and deed that becomes part of the collective unconscious, making it a global health issue. Experts say that a distracted, chattering mind has negative physical affects, making us unhealthier in body and mind. It’s hard to avoid the stress: stress sells. It creates negativity and fear via our sense impressions. We rely on outer sources to fuel and inform us — the television, the radio and newspapers — and construct a picture of “reality” from the outside in. We consume the news as it’s presented to us, and don’t realize the profound effect it’s having on us.

    Instead, we should be tuning into ourselves. It is possible to stop the constant stream of disquietude by re-focusing; by noticing the light in the trees, the sound of water running over rocks, by taking a moment to get in touch with what exists right now. If we are conscious and aware, we can recalibrate and turn down the suffering.

    As I write this, it is 12/12/12. Numerologically, “one” is represents new beginnings, while “two” suggests union, urging us to unite. It’s impossible to think about this auspicious date without considering the Mayan prophecy, a cosmic interpretation of the date that marks a positive spiritual transformation.

    There are many ways to provoke change, but when it comes to cultivating a quiet mind, the revolution starts within. Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” The essence of inner calm is found through becoming mindful, developing an awareness of what I call “what is.” It lies in contemplative practices that develop concentration and insight. Here are just a few ways to dial down the racket and dive into the soothing waters of silence:

    Start to notice the shadow, the quiet voice within that speaks in symbols — telling us what things need fixing. The shadow grabs our attention with afflictions: disease, depression, dissatisfaction, and keeps turning up the heat with new problems when we don’t listen.

    LET GO:
    You don’t have to be perfect, do it all, or hold on to things that no longer serve you. Letting go is part of any cyclical process. Look at the things in your life that no longer serve you, and release them. This includes taking stock of your own qualities and habits and dropping the ones that create suffering. In addition, be willing to let other things (or people) let YOU go. There’s a reason why someone walks out of your life, or that job no longer serves you. Acknowledge it, and you create space for new possibilities to flood in.

    Accept the fleeting nature of things and honor present moment. Meditation is the perfect way to become mindful of what exists right now. The Upanishads say that to meditate is to be filled with light in the world and master the world of light. The quality of light is constantly changing because of the circumstances around it but it’s what enables you to see.

    Opening to Grace:
    Your little will cannot force change. This is the work of spirit. I repeat this mantra to myself constantly: “Not everything is up to you.” There are forces at work in the universe that have nothing to do with ego, or desire or control. Allow for the unexpected.

    Apply Self Discipline:
    Conversely, nothing will get accomplished without resolve. Take “right” action and do the work by establishing good habits. Meditate, eat healthy, take nature walks, make time to cultivate quiet.

    Our minds are like a mountain trails, thick with thoughts and the thorns caused by poor choices and the past, obscured by the twisted weeds of desire and lack of concentration. But if we commit to self-realization practices, we slowly begin to clear the path within.

    • What a wise and lovely column! I’ve been feeling full of noise and needed to read this. The sun just came out. I’ll be in the garden today.

      • Judy–Hope you can turn down the volume and dial up the light today. Being in the garden sounds like the perfect way to do so. thanks for reading and commenting! xo

    • A few years ago, I worked in a badly designed office space that magnified noise: telephones ringing, people shouting and complaining and talking, babies crying or screaming. I could even hear individual conversations of people walking in the front door an entire floor away. Colleagues and bosses ignored my pleas to improve the space. The noise finally did destroy me. It has taken years to embark on a process of recovery and more to sustain it.

      I am grateful to see this beautifully written piece about the potential for noise to destroy, even kill. We need to have more of this conversation; it is one people do need to hear.

      • Let me very quietly thank you for this comment, Diane. My ears are extra sensitive, and I find that the more noise that’s surrounding me, the harder it is for me to not only hear myself think, but to feel centered. Glad that you got away from the noise pollution and that you’re working to sustain the gifts of silence.

    • Lori, this is a wonderful column, I always look to the negative space to see beauty. My art has also led me to see lots of life around me. Just taking chances and breathing helps move the air around me too. Lots to help lesson the maddening crowds and thoughts that flood us. I also use the sweeping method (literally picturing a broom sweeping out the thoughts I don’t need or want). I am sure your show was a great success and if I lived near NYC I would have gone. Great food for thought today.

      • Madge–the “secret” to everything lies in its opposite. looking to create positive form out of negative space is a beautiful practice. It’s interesting to me to hear about other people’s practices for moving energy.
        thanks for reading my piece, and for writing….and for your words about my show…….xo

      • Hollye Dexter

      • December 16, 2012 at 11:11 am
      • Reply

      Beautiful Lori- and agreed!
      Welcome to iPinion.

      • Thanks for being one of the reasons I was drawn to contributing to iPinion in the first place, Hollye–LOVE your piece today too……xo

      • Beth Dunnington

      • December 16, 2012 at 11:54 am
      • Reply

      Wonderful, Lori! Calming words in this crazy time. Words to help us focus. Reconnect to ourselves. Under “Opening to Grace,” this especially hit home today. “There are forces at work in the universe that have nothing to do with ego, or desire or control. Allow for the unexpected.” Yes! Thank you for the beautiful reminder. I look forward to your next piece.

      • Maya North

      • December 16, 2012 at 5:02 pm
      • Reply

      Gorgeous and so very, very true! Your picture illustrates it perfect–the busy motion on top of the deep serenity. When I suffered two incapacitating losses–my first, really–I found the best long term healing was to sit beneath our Mother Walnut (*her* mother right next to her), in the ugliest and most comfortable chair and watch the gauzy insects dance alit with sunlight, or the patterns of the leaves moving against the blue sky. It was that inner silence that quieted the screams of anguish that never seemed to stop otherwise and finally, allowed the healing…

      I am glad you are my fellow new columnist. They have chosen well…

      • Maya–you are so kind–and I LOVE your description of watching the gauzy insects dance or watching the patterns of leaves moving against the blue sky. nature is the greatest healer. I really appreciate all of your beautiful words about me, and suggest that all you see in me is a reflection of your own light–xo

    • Geeze, where did all of these good writers come from? I used to think I was like the best writer in the world, or at least second best, aw Hell, never mind. Anyway, it’s been too noisy for me to think so much about noise so thanks for thinking of it for me and putting it very nicely in a neat little package. MMmmm, I wonder if I can steal this column?

      • I’m so happy to read this comment. Thank for turning down the volume low enough to let my words in……..You probably are the best writer in the world……. 😉

      • Matt Najmowicz

      • December 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm
      • Reply

      Are you a Buddhist or were interested in Buddhism?

      • Matt–I don’t call myself a Buddhist, but I do a lot of Buddhist practices, and am certified to teach yoga and meditation. I prefer not to label what I do, because doing so creates limitations (in my mind). But I am (obviously) heavily influenced by Eastern thought. thanks for reading!

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