Monday, June 27, 2011
Taming my Wild Horse Mind
A man is riding on top of a horse that is galloping by frantically, as if he has to be somewhere important, as soon as possible. A bystander sees this and asks the man, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” the rider replies, “ask the horse!”
Sometimes I feel like such a slave to my brain and the thoughts it perpetually secretes. It’s as if someone inside my head is randomly changing radio stations and I’m left to deal with whatever noisy static, music, or cheesy talk radio bantor is blaring on in the background at any given moment.
For most of my life, I’d mistake this background noise for reality—that is, I’d believe that whatever I was thinking at the time was terribly important, real, and urgent. I’d be certain that the way some stranger looked at me on the street was a clear sign of disapproval or defiance, or that comment a friend made at dinner two days ago was nothing more than a thinly veiled sign of disrespect, hostility, or jealousy.
Very often, my mind still tosses and turns and flails about like an untamed horse or an unruly child. It would be ridiculous of me to just sit on a mustang and let it gallop around wildly without pulling the reins in, or to allow a child to run around and cause whatever chaos s/he wants to. Yet for many years I allowed my brain to dictate how I should feel and behave, pretty much all the time. And that got really tired for me a few years ago so I turned to practice.
One of the most striking byproducts of meditating regularly has been my newfound ability to discern that what’s happening internally is not necessarily in sync with what is happening externally. That is, the way in which I perceive and experience circumstances, people, and events usually gets filtered through a variety of elements within me that are constantly in flux. None of them are set in stone yet I frequently allow them to color the way in which I take in whatever is happening around me.
It’s sort of like looking at one’s self in a mirror covered by layers and layers of dust and dirt—you just don’t get a clear view of whatever happens to be in front of it. Everything gets distorted based on the many years of grime and gook that’s accumulated on the glass. Meditation means gradually cleaning the mirror so that we can see things more clearly and accurately.
By sitting regularly, and by learning to pause whenever strong thoughts and emotions come up, I’m better equipped to deal with the day-to-day stuff of my life. I can notice what’s happening and what the quality of that experience is like instead of getting carried away with my thoughts and opinions about that experience. I’m much more likely to catch myself whenever my thoughts are going off in some tangent that has nothing to do with what needs to be done at that particular time. So if I’m walking down the street, I can simply walk without using that in-between time to replay old conversations, or to plot and plan how to become some better version of myself.
I understand that just because I feel angry or elated or annoyed or ignored, it doesn’t mean it’s entirely the fault of the person or circumstances before me. I can take some responsibility and use the experience as an opportunity to get better acquainted with how my mind works and to learn about people and this very interesting world I live in.