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:
BALANCE DARKNESS WITH LIGHT:
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.
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.