Are you a student of the mind? That’s not really such a strange question, is it? You have one, of course, and you’re intensely aware of its workings from time to time at least. But do you ever really observe it for the sake of better understanding it, as you might observe the world around you?
Certainly you’ve enjoyed mind’s capacity for single-pointed concentration – while focusing on one of your very favorite tasks, perhaps. You might also appreciate its incredible expansiveness – the way it seems possible to hold all of life and time and space at once within its gentle grasp. Hopefully you can also relate to the stillness of mind that’s possible – the way mind can be as quiet and receptive as an empty nest in winter, patiently waiting for whatever phenomena might “choose” to light within.
Mind has been compared to clear light, luminous and bright, or water, whether cloudy or clear, flowing or still. Mind is referred to as open or closed, gentle or hard, big or small. Yes, mind has been called a lot of things, but not even scientists know with certainty what it is, despite the fact that you can watch it for yourself anytime you wish. Until such time, that is, when mind wanders off with your intention and finds itself lost in a jungle of thoughts that weren’t there in its meadow just a moment ago.
I came to be pondering such things of late (for the umpteenth time) after becoming aware that my mind had shrunk to encapsulate a rather small world that I’d stumbled into. You see, I recently took on the task of leveling the floor in our kitchen and family room – a task that, without getting too lost in the weeds trying to describe it, had no obviously good solution. For weeks I researched methods and considered possibilities. For weeks more I toiled bringing the decided on course of action to a suitable conclusion. And all the while the pressure continued to mount related to the nonnegotiable requirement that the whole project be wrapped up in time for an upcoming family visit over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mind can constrict around such circumstances and make it seem as though nothing else exists, or ever will exist.
What I was able to notice was that, in addition to its many fine attributes, mind can also be like shrink wrap growing tighter and tighter around us and our less than desirable circumstances as the heat, the pressure of the situation, increases. Our entire world becomes reduced to only that which is contained within our narrowed field of vision. In my case I was able to alleviate that pressure a little bit by reminding myself that I could always use some vacation time to finish up the project, or hire a contractor friend to come in and help if need be. Thankfully, the occasional flash of joyful anticipation of the upcoming family gathering served as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as well.
As I write this, however, I’m reminded of times of great loss and hopelessness, when options seemed few or nonexistent, and light seemed nowhere in sight. Mind can constrict around such circumstances and make it seem as though nothing else exists, or ever will exist. It’s important to know how to find stillness in such times. Whether you find it in prayer, meditation, or in communion with nature, the ability to tap into the inherent stillness behind all phenomena can be, quite literally, a lifesaver. A glimpse of stillness can pierce the shrink wrap of constricted mind and transform it into one that is more spacious and open, and patiently waiting for life to nest within it once again.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank
All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.