It is hard to pinpoint the moment that I began to seriously explore mindfulness. It was a couple of decades ago when I had a busy career and a young family. I began to notice that it was getting noisy inside my head. I began to notice that it was hard to turn off the cascade of thoughts at the end of the day. I noticed that even though some of the things I was thinking/planning/worrying about had a very low probability of actually occurring, it didn’t seem to impact the seemingly endless desire of my mind to chew away at them.
Sometimes I would notice I was thinking about work problems, while doing a household task, and silently reciting a song in my head, all at the same time. It was just getting all together too busy in there.
I first turned towards the world’s great religious traditions to seek the peace and compassion of the saints. I learned much, frequently became inspired, and yet it did little to quiet my mind.
I studied myth. Again, learned much, got a sense of the recurring themes in the life journey, but my mind was still noisy.
I started learning about meditation. It took a while to really understand how simple it was, and that it was not about achieving some amazing, transcending experience – even though I experienced a few remarkable states. And whenever I meditated, it certainly quieted things down for a bit. A 10 out of 10 stress day would be reduced to 7 out of 10. A 5 out of 10 stress day would be reduced to a 3. But as soon as I stopped meditating the noise in my mind would begin to pick up again.
I got intrigued with yoga, thinking that maybe a movement centered practice would be a better fit for someone like me who did not really enjoy sitting still for too long. This led to a pretty deep dive into yogic philosophy (some of the most comprehensive to be found), years of practice, study with many prominent teachers, and eventually a teacher training course and certification as a Registered Yoga Teacher. Yoga helped my flexibility and strength and taught me a great deal about the link between the body and the mind. However, it certainly did not deal a knockout blow to the noise in my head. When I do yoga I am centered with a quiet focused mind. When I stop, the mind slowly starts up again.
It was only when I almost gave up the search in frustration, and actually prayed to find the right teacher, path or practice, to get me to that more sustainably peaceful place that some deep part of me intuited existed, did I finally connect with the teaching I had been looking for.
How ridiculous. It turned out the part of me that was so intent on solving this problem, was the part of me that had no chance of succeeding. That part of me, the thinking, planning, getting-better-at-it mind, was indeed the main barrier to the deeper peace I was looking for. And all I had to do is stop identify with it. That’s it. (It may sound too simple. I know I would not have been satisfied with this answer if it was handed to me before I had exhausted myself seeking some way to figure it out.)
My mind is still here. It is part of my experience. It does useful things. It also continues to do what human minds are wired to do; judge, resist, desire, fantasize, and generally want things to be different.
The difference is I no longer plant my flag of identity solely with my thoughts or emotions. I watch them come and go, and every hour there is a new monologue. I just keep taking my attention off them, and putting it on my breath, whatever else is present, or the source of attention itself. Starved of attention and belief, the mind usually quiets down. And sometimes it doesn’t.
It doesn’t matter, I simply choose to no longer mind the mind.