At 22, I went to a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and barely shut up the entire time I was there.
I didn’t say a word aloud, but behind my serene, closed-lip smile I couldn’t stop talking to myself.
My mind was an echo chamber where a cacophony played on and on and on, repeating song lyrics, film quotes, past conversations, imagined future conversations, childhood memories, to-do lists, and absolutely anything else it could think up to keep me from settling down into my body.
At first I thought I was crazy. How have I managed to get this far in life without anyone realizing there’s something very wrong with me? But over the course of the 10 days, as I occasionally experienced a full one-Mississippi second of silence, I came to realize that I wasn’t crazy, I’d just spent 22 years letting my small mind drunk drive my body.
Buddhists draw a distinction between Big Mind, or Natural Mind, and small mind, or ordinary mind. The small mind likes to tell stories, to make meaning out of what it fears may be meaningless, to comfort itself in the face of chaos. It’s easy to spend a lifetime stuck inside these incessant stories with no idea that there’s a far more spacious consciousness inside each of us, always here, patiently waiting for us to disengage from the small mind and turn toward the vastness.
Big Mind is that vastness. It is the brilliant blue sky of our true nature, and yet we so often mistake ourselves for clouds of thought. Experiencing the vastness of myself without any self-limiting ideas about who I am or who I’m “supposed” to be was pure bliss. I wanted to walk through the world that way, entirely free. But before I could disengage from my small mind, I had to get a clear look at it in action.
It wasn’t pretty.
For the duration of the retreat, I did my best to observe as my small mind blasted an inner radio and drunkenly swerved along the road of emotions. For joy rides it zoomed at top speed, but after hitting unexpected road bumps, it crashed into a sea of blues. Such ups and downs left me with disconcerting whiplash and the chronic ache of carsickness.
My small mind was driving me nuts, so I vowed to take the keys away.
When I returned to the world, however, I fell right back into old habits. I forgot those glorious moments when Big Mind eclipsed small mind and the world took on a simple yet spellbinding luminescence. It was so easy to kick back, throw my feet up on the dash, and just follow the ruts of routine I’d let my small mind carve out for me. But those paths only ever led to more drama, never to peace.
It’s taken me three years of a very spotty meditation practice to accept that if I let the small mind stay in the driver’s seat, it will continue to careen around in the dark with broken headlights, bleary eyes on the rearview mirror, forever gazing at its self-important stories. But if I make a conscious effort to drop into my body and let Big Mind take the wheel, then the headlights come back on and glow like a lighthouse guiding me home.
Moving through life as the responsible, designated driver of my body takes practice, but it’s worth it; this practice allows me to see the perfection of the world as it is.
For 10 minutes every morning, I meditate on my breath and center on the awareness that what I truly am is far more spacious than the stories my small mind tells. When I open my eyes and move through the day, instead of finding myself in old ruts, I feel as if I’m driving a motorcycle around the curves of a mountain road, up through a silver mist that reminds me that in reality, I can only see what is happening right before my eyes. No point in straining to see into the distant future, and certainly no time to waste looking back over my shoulder.
I just have to trust that the path will continue to rise up and meet me where I am, and do my best to enjoy the ride.
Author: Lexi Tess
Image: Ket Queng/Free Images
Editor: Emily Bartran