A Year of Living Mindfully: Patience pays off when escaping my mental circus


My phone alarm woke me with its usual marimba ringtone. I turned it off, pulled the duvet over my head and stayed put. I needed more sleep. I had been awake on and off through the night and I knew that an extra hour would make all the difference to the day ahead.

When I got up, there was only one thought in my mind: “Get me the coffee and no one gets hurt.” I came to after breakfast and became engrossed in a great book by Ken Wilber,The Simple Feeling of Being. I have been trying to get my head around his writing for the past few weeks. He takes mindfulness to a whole new dimension.

It was eight o’clock and not my usual six o’clock by the time I got to my cushion. The house was full of movement and I could hear the sound of morning news in the distance: a tornado in Oklahoma, the death of Ray Manzarek, keys player with The Doors. I closed my eyes and stepped into a carnival of activity.

Thoughts were spinning off in several directions; agendas piled into my awareness one after the other and carried me further and further into distraction. The opening organ riff from Light My Fire, repeating over and over, provided an unrelenting soundtrack.

Sticky mind
I reached for a handrail to steady myself, my breath. I tried to recall something Wilber had said that would free my sticky mind and wash me back into my contemplative heart. “Divinity has one ultimate secret, which it will also whisper in your ear if your mind becomes quieter than the fog at sunset.”

Fat chance of that happening while I was trapped inside my mental circus in broad daylight. But I had time; I had 30 minutes. I remembered that this is why we practise for a period of time rather than just a minute or two. With patience, we get there.

When we go quiet, we wake up to the music of our distracted fragmented minds. It’s no use fighting with ourselves to be silent. We need to give ourselves time. Even if we experience stillness and freedom for a few moments, that’s enough.

The directions to finding stillness, Wilber says, “are printed on the box in which your Heart came, and they are simple. Relax the mind and body . . . leave seriousness at the door. Take off your shoes, for this is hallowed ground, and bow to the Lightness and Humour that begins to replace solemnity.”

What helped me to lighten up and find stillness this morning was realising that I was the ringmaster who was stage-managing this familiar show.

Fear of silence
I love silence but I find it scary. I fill my mind with noise because I fear what I’ll encounter in silence. I imagine I will be hit by a Mace truck packed full of painful memories. Stuff that’s floating like debris in the deeper regions of my mind. I also fear the emptiness that awaits me when I drop below the noise.

So I keep these carnivals running in my mind, in spite of knowing deep down that I will be able to cope with whatever crops up. I’ve been down this road many times and I’m still here.

Seeing what I am doing and understanding what I’m doing makes it easier to just let it be and then let it go. I fall into mindfulness, much like I fall into sleep. I can’t make it happen, no more than I can make myself fall asleep. I can only show up, lighten up, and let myself BE.

Allowing my breath to guide me into the present moment, I’m gradually released from fear. And on the other side of fear I find that I am already still.

The peace of mind we are all looking for, says Wilber, is closer than we imagine. “Closer than your heartbeat, nearer than your breath. It is staring you in the face, right here, right now.”

With patience we get there, with kindness we are released. With practice we discover that the spirit we are looking for isn’t hard to find. It’s actually impossible to avoid. We rest in awareness and we revel in the simple Feeling of Being.

Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health

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