Sitting down and quieting the mind presents us with an opportunity to do just that—to watch, to examine, to deepen into the lusciousness of the present moment.
The action of stilling opens up hidden passageways and illuminates chasms of depth through which fleeting moments of connection and myriad questions flow out to touch our lives and point us toward the path—the beginning of the journey into something new.
We might feel light and free, the rich scent of life following us down the street but finding the path and descending into the internal journey, also means steadfastly turning things around.
For me, this turning things around meant seeing how I was a kind of slave to my mind; I realized how difficult it was to still my thoughts and reactions, especially in the midst of tough circumstances. I also noticed a deeper level—the grooves of conditioned responses I had learned as a child and maintained into young adulthood.
This second discovery was the profound one—not that I couldn’t read about it in psychology books—but when I directly experienced the depth of a conditioned response, I came to see the house or fortress I had built up over the course of my life, the comfortable abode I inhabited…but it wasn’t my essence.
I felt as though I was living but only in a way that felt caged and false; fitting my prescribed view of the world. “How can infinity fit into what I want or what I think is concrete?”, “How can events be separated into the convenience of singularity—a conveyer belt where I can judge each one to be good or bad and then wrap a little red bow around them?”
This wasn’t reality; this was life lived through the house I had built, the comforting yellow covered wallpaper and the drone of the television, which was none other than my thoughts—the interplay of flashing MTV music videos, infomercials, horror movies, dramas and stand-up comedy.
“Well,” I thought, “It might be time to go for a walk and step into the life that is here, to feel it against my skin and sit with the majesty of the unknown.”
And that’s where my mindfulness practice started.
The beginning of the internal journey can happen at any moment; you might have a near death experience—or maybe you feel as though life is shallow and you want to find some kind of marrow that flows through all things. The calling can come from any direction, the same way life does—the real one that doesn’t fit your prescribed versions of it.
I had the pleasure of speaking to someone the other day about an encounter with the past he had, that struck him in a, as he said, “profound way.”
He had been watching family videos from past trips to the beach when he was a small boy; his siblings danced and screamed, kicking their feet in the sand and staring through the holes in pieces of coral at their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, the beach, sun and distant rain clouds. The man laughed at the sight of his siblings all together, laughing, crying, showering together and eating who-knows-what.
It was a warm, nostalgic experience, full of love and fondness.
But, then there was a moment where he was alone on camera. It was just him, small, wild, curly hair, smiling eyes wide without the cumbersome weight of the house he had built to protect his budding image of himself, against the unknown tragedies and comedies that would befall him, up until his viewing of these videos and beyond. And it is still him, this underlying natural essence that is, as it is, still embedded within every human being.
“When the weeds are poking through your skull
That’s the day you’ll have regrets!
As for me, I delight in the everyday Way.”
It can be a sticky, warped maneuver to sit with thought patterns and conditioned responses that reach back so far and deep in the mind that their origins are lost in the blackness of time or the haze of an internal defense against that-which-does-not-wish-to-be-uncovered. Flipping these reactions—these layered shades covering our essence—through the cultivation of a burning awareness, is the practice.
The action of the internal voyager is inwardly focused toward the ‘egoic’ house we have built—but in doing so, we leave the comforts of our thoughts and opinions, to be with the wilderness of the depth of the mind and the infinity of the universe that holds us—and that we are intrinsically a piece of.
Each time we witness a conditioned response or a subtle reaction, we come back to the now and breathe in the vastness, while resting on the back of infinity.
As we continue to make the descent mindfully into the movements of our internal regions and watch our thoughts with care, we begin to understand the breadth of the territory into which we are consciously wading.
Like the infinitude of the universe around us and the continuous state of uncertainty that comes hand-in-hand with the shifting comings and goings of life, it becomes apparent that this same outer reality permeates throughout the inner realms of the mind—the vastness within—as well.
Together, these two universes form the backbone of our existence. And together, they constitute the one reality that is here—the singularity that blends matter and dark matter, dimensions and gravitational forces, thoughts and opinions—into the direct experience of what constitutes the texture of our lives. We are the depth of mind we inhabit and if this is true, then descending into and right through the inner regions of who we are is the fundamental passageway to experiencing a deep connection to the life that is here.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The metaphorical hero figure in this internally-driven plot, who descends into the inner regions, isn’t one who fights and slashes at incoming stimuli—instead, he slowly undergoes a transformation and begins to take the moment gracefully, moving to its majesty, rather than forcing his own. There is a reverence for utter surrender and thus an acquired taste for the lusciousness that comes hand-in-hand with learning to sit peacefully and mindfully, in the presence of wild beasts.
Whether the beast is a seething memory or the loss of a loved one, taking what is given from the inconceivable background as a manifestation of infinity, drives us toward an intimate relationship with life—our feet firmly pressed against the backbone of wisdom.
The hero figure wandering along the spiritual path isn’t an Odysseus, a Mr. Kurtz or a Gilgamesh figure; there are no gods to woo, people to manipulate or Cyclops to gouge. For doing such things in the inner realms pushes the individual farther away from gaining an understanding of the spaciousness that surrounds and pierces all things, including the mind.
Going beyond the confines of the logical or the parameters of opinion, this metaphorical hero profoundly is.
His or her calling, in a sense, is to be at one with what is here—the intimate experience of now—something that is always on the edge of our nose but cannot be grasped logically. Learning to delve into this inner wilderness, to walk peacefully and freely in these lands, is to tread through life openly connected to infinity and the grandeur of the unknown laws that govern the territories of the inner and outer regions.[i]
Through the journey and after months (or maybe even years), we might suddenly realize that the house is gone and that we are lost in the depths of the unknown, the breadth of reality.
Then, we might know the intimacy of the essence.
[i] Note: the inner and outer regions—the borders melting over time and practice, form the one reality that is here.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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