I just returned from a seven-day silent meditation retreat. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend some intimate time with my heart, my body and, yes, my MIND
Oh, the shows! … at all hours of the day! Some were deeply dramatic. Some were high adventure. And some were purely comedic!
I think the trick to enjoying the “show” is ATTITUDE. The mind, usually operating below our conscious awareness, will reveal itself in the spotlight if approached with a friendly, curious attitude.
And when the body is relaxed and the mind quiet, I discovered it is actually possible to sit back and enjoy the ticker-tape parade of thoughts that float through the mind… without getting caught up and carried away in the storyline.
So…. one morning at breakfast, halfway through my retreat, I experienced this more directly than I ever have . It was really fascinating!
Senses fully awake and the body-mind geared up to do it’s “automatic pilot” feeding routine… I decided to get real interested in observing my “wanting mind” at work. I slowed way down and became the “audience” with a front row seat.
Mealtime is a great time to watch “the show” because body and mind are alert and engaged.
As the aromas wafted up toward the nose, my brain kicked in. Messages began firing to the hand to “pick up the fork.” And I noticed the immediate impulse of the hand to move toward the plate. I noticed… but I did not react.
“Take a bite”, the brain directed a little more urgently. Breathing in, breathing out… I closed my eyes, lowered my head and took a big whiff of the smells of breakfast. Imagine that. I rarely ever take the time to smell my food. WOW! All senses were jumping up and down cheering “this is wonderful!” Even my taste buds were happy. Smells can be amazingly “nourishing”
But… it wasn’t long (maybe a second, maybe less) until the mind kicked up a gear. In double time it shouted directives to the arm and hand (and millions of other muscles, nerves and tendons I don’t even know about) to DO SOMETHING! Hmmmmm, I smiled, … so this is what “wanting mind” sounds like
“Okay”, I decided, “Let’s take a bite”. “But… I’m going to be aware, not unconscious. I don’t want to miss a thing.” Slowly and mindfully, I observed a fork full of bright yellow eggs rise, wobble and touch my lips. Slowly and mindfully, I was able to taste that very first encounter between taste buds and food… and the second and the third. So many opportunities for enjoyment when one STAYS with the tasting, the chewing, and the swallowing.
Now here is where it got really interesting. While I was enjoying, really enjoying, the food that was still in my mouth, I noticed quiet thoughts percolating about the next bite. The mind was actually directing the hand to scoop up another load of food- while the first fork load was still in my mouth! Thankfully, I was so relaxed and quiet that I could just smile and notice the dialogue- without acting on it.
Fully absorbed with the exercise, I must have remained in the breakfast room for hours.
Each time the mind tried to convince the body to do something- I just asked myself “What do I need right now?” This was not about deprivation. I was perfectly willing to respond to whatever the body said it needed. But, I truly wanted to know the truth- “what do I need right now?”
To hear the answer, I scanned my awareness through the body… asking gently, “does any place need anything?”… kind of like your grandmother might ask you- sincere, loving and practical. Simply checking in with the belly, the taste buds, the body temperature, chair comfort, etc… inquiring, “Is anything needed, really needed, here, now?”
…and, to my surprise, 99.9% of the time, the answer was “NO. not really. Actually, I am content. Wow. I am fully content.”
So, there I sat… enjoying the feeling of contentment for long stretches of time. Responding when the body had a need. But most of the time just aware that I was satisfied… as the constant chatter of a busy, wanting mind played in the background- like white noise.
Once I was no longer possessed by “doing something” about my urges, I really got curious about this “show” unfolding within me. And it became comical! Like I could “see” the puppeteer up there in the loft directing my body to do all sorts of things without my consciousness aware of it. Very sneaky.
I laughed while “listening” to the whispers back stage- “Okay, take another sip, quick.” or “Eat more. You might be hungry later“- ha! Usually the body tried to cooperate- muscles contracted, the hand began to reach. But when I just watched… the body relaxed.
Once, when someone got up beside me to leave, my brain exploded with concern- “Are we supposed to be somewhere? Better get up and find out!” Adrenaline shot through my body, heart rate increased, throat clenched (fear). And all the while… I didn’t move. I didn’t “Do” anything. In the pause I was able to remember calmly that a retreat bell will ring anytime we need to be somewhere. That I am just fine. I’ll hear the bell when it is time to go. Ahhhh… heart rate slowed. Body re-relaxed.
Asking again, “Do I need anything right now?” Breathing in… slight smile. Breathing out… “No. actually I don’t. All is well. Thanks for asking.”
Eventually, in times like this when the body is at ease and we bring a friendly, interested attitude toward our experience… the conditions are ripe for insight. And that is what happened for me.
I began to wonder, “How many moments of my life am I unconsciously reacting to fears about creature comforts? … the fear that for 10 minutes of my meditation sit I might actually feel a little uncomfortable with sensations of hunger or body tightness or having to go to the bathroom? …the fear that if I don’t finish my plate now I might be hungry later? … the fear that if I don’t constantly carry around a bottle of water I might get thirsty (as if that is a crisis)?
How many moments of my Life do I spend in preparation for the future instead of actually experiencing what is real- this precious moment right before me?
Moments like this, full of delicious smells, a satisfied belly, nourishing tastes. How many do I miss… because I relinquish the “strings” to my worried, survival-mode mind?
Oh, bless it’s heart- the mind can’t help itself. The Limbic system (primitive brain) is hard-wired to scan the horizon for threats and look out for our creature comforts. It reacts instantly to any perceived need. It is designed that way.
But, when we PAUSE, we give the brain time to send the request up further… to the frontal lobe (rational brain)- a place of reason and wisdom. Most often than not, that clear-headed place recognizes there is not really a great need or grave threat. And then the whole body is allowed to relax out of the fight/flight mode.
I’m not mad at my Wanting Mind. Poor thing, it is working so hard to take care of me. But I no longer plan to allow it to call all the shots. I’m missing too much when I do.
I realize these “behind the scenes” mind-body conversations have been taking place all my life, without me knowing it. It wasn’t until I found meditation that I learned to lift the curtain and discover the powerful spotlight of Awareness.
This being human is fascinating. May we all sit back and enjoy the show!
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
TRY THIS: Awareness of how the Wanting Mind communicates with the body can offer more freedom in our lives, don’t you think? How many things do you do because of this silent, impulsive mind-body dance? S0, just asking, “What do I need right now?”, can put you back in control of your actions. I know that for me it will take lots of practice… and patience. There is just so much to Unlearn.
But even in a week, it is amazing how many things I DON’T DO on automatic-pilot now , like:
~Push SEND on a Facebook comment or an email; ~Pour a glass of wine as the sun goes down; ~Buy items on the grocery store endcap displays; ~Grab a snack when I pass the pantry door; ~ Interrupt when someone else is speaking…
I invite you to:
Sit with a plate of food or cup of tea. Breathe deeply, relax your shoulders. Connect with the intention to be friendly with your experience. Then take 30 seconds to notice everything going on in your body. Mouth watering, muscles contracting, stomach grumbling, tension, excitement, etc… Do you notice urges playing out physically in your body… or thoughts of “I need some of those. I’m hungry, etc..”?
Take a bite or sip. Then relax and watch again… what is going on in the body? what is the mind saying? Watch the show but don’t react.
And regularly, gently, without judgement, simply inquire: “What do I need right now?” Then notice what is true.