Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Shut up, I can't hear myself think

By James Kyle

Several years ago I was living outside Fresno in the countryside, towards Yosemite in fact, which quickly became one of my favourite places on the planet. At the time I was attending the University of Santa Monica and we students had been directed to carry out an exercise in connecting more deeply with ourselves. In the first instance I thought I would fulfil this exercise by being more focused on sitting in silent meditation on a more regular basis. I thought this should be reasonably easy to accomplish as I was living in the middle of the countryside on 30 acres of land. My universe quickly gave me feedback that this was not the way forward, as my first few attempts at silent meditation on the balcony were interrupted by construction noises of a new neighbouring farm home to one side of my house, and on moving to the other side of the house, being then faced with a loud radio being played by some other neighbours working in the fields. I took this as a sign that I was not on the right track and started to rethink how else I could meaningfully fulfil this exercise.

I then realized that a fruitful interpretation of this exercise which would be more meaningful to me personally would be to address the lack of silence in my mind - to address the mental chatter that goes on in my head for most of the day. So for the rest of the month I chose particular situations to practice a form of moving mediation in which my intention was to focus my entire awareness on whatever activity I was involved in at the time, and to use this as a means of seeing if I could quiet my overactive intellect. The three areas I chose specifically were listening to music, eating and jogging. All I can claim is that at that point I made a start on this challenging process. And I did find it very challenging. It was a powerful lesson to me to see just how easily my mind would take over again and again and that something as simple as focusing on a favourite song for all of three minutes or eating just one meal without accompanying mental chatter was so difficult. This in turn fed into my continuing resistance to the overall process. However I do think that this was a productive exercise for me to carry out, and that an important seed was planted - a deeper appreciation that focusing on this kind of moving meditation is an important way forward. This kind of process is such an important key to quieting the mind to facilitate more self awareness, by reducing the distraction of the all too obtrusive non-stop mental chatter.

There was a specific significant win for me shortly afterwards that indicated I was making at least some progress. I was driving in my car and had just came off a freeway around a long curving off ramp. Although I had been driving in the US for quite a while, I was not familiar with this particular exit off the Fresno freeway, and I mistakenly stopped at white line that was indicating a pedestrian crossing rather than a stop line. The next thing I heard was car brakes being slammed on behind me. The car did not hit me which was fortunate as irrespective of my error it was obviously going far too fast for that steeply curved exit ramp. At the next set of traffic lights the car drew up beside me and the woman driver started screaming and swearing and threatening me - it seems road rage had definitely arrived in Fresno. The significance of this interaction was that there was not one moment when I hooked into this woman’s emotion. I stayed calm and purposefully showed no reaction to what she was saying, knowing this would only inflame her further. I did not go into self recrimination. I did not move into outrage at her shouting at me. I did not buy into her definition of reality. My mind stayed peaceful and in that silence I just let her anger wash over me accepting that this was her reality but it did not have to be mine. This was a very significant personal experience of the power of a quiet mind. 

So I leave you with this thought. A quiet mind helps you to avoid buying into other people’s realities: the truth of your reality is always to be found inside you.