Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Restless Minds

I woke up yesterday morning about 4:30 AM and never did get back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 6:15 AM, I got up as I normally do and found my way to the shower. When I got out of the shower, my wife informed me that she felt ill and would not be going to work. I finished my morning chores and headed out of the house alone. It was a cold morning and there was light frost on the car windows. I drove down the highway lost in my thoughts. Most of the day my mind was dull and empty. I didn't feel badly but I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything. At times I felt bored. I still worked but it was a mind game to do so. A couple of times I went outdoors hoping the fresh and cool air of the day would revive me. It never did. Do you ever have days like this? I felt like I was in a funk but my mood wasn't bad. It seemed like a day that would have been better served walking in a woods somewhere with the leaves rustling under my feet and the dry twigs cracking under my footsteps. Perhaps my head and the rest of me simply needs airing out. This coming weekend when I am at the monastery I will have an opportunity to give myself this airing out. The monastery has lots of woods and they are gorgeous this time of year. I think I will seek out the beauty of the woods and find a tree to sit under or a log to sit upon. I will become one more tree in the woods shedding my deadness and waiting for new life. I will sway in the wind and let my thoughts and troubles be carried away.

I am feeling better this morning. I slept well if not long. My walk through the park in the cold morning air was an awakening experience even if I did yawn the entire way into my office. I sit here now with my empty coffee mug. Soon it will be filled with fresh coffee. A new day has begun.

Everyone struggles with a restless mind and the coming and going of many thoughts. It's impossible to not have thoughts. One thing you can do while being quiet is to imagine yourself sitting on a riverbank. Your thoughts are like the boats going up and down the river. You watch them go by but you basically ignore them. You can't stop them from coming and going but you don't have to get all involved in them. Make sense? You can also use what some people would call a mantra. It is a simple word or sound that helps to keep one focused. I use the word "Abba". When I am trying to be quiet and still, and then become distracted with my thoughts, I slowly start repeating the word "Abba" which pulls me back into the quiet. Every time you realize that you are thinking, go back to your word. Another important element of contemplative prayer is solitude. Solitude is the positive side of being alone. The negative side of being alone is loneliness. I've made no secret of the fact that I am an introvert. Solitude is as necessary for me to live as breathing. However, even those of you who are extroverted need to spend time alone. It doesn't matter where you do it but preferably it is a quiet place. You can go out in nature or have a sacred space in your home. The outdoors is nature's cathedral. If you choose a place in you home, decorate it in a manner that is quieting and sacred to you. Avoid clutter and other distractions. Use a comfortable chair but one that isn't so relaxing that you fall asleep. Sometimes, however, I do fall asleep and occasionally that is what I really need so I consider it a gift of God. After all, one of the fruits of contemplative prayer is a grateful heart. When God gives me sleep, I am grateful. But to be fair, I think God prefers me to be awake when I sit quietly in solitude. A quiet place where you will be undisturbed is more important than a solitary place but quiet and solitude together is the perfect blend. I have, however, done a lot of meditation on airplanes which are neither quiet nor solitary.

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