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I have been assured by many talking heads that we are living in unusually turbulent times. Politics is dirty and ever more vicious in countries around the world. Economies are in contraction, inflation is rampant, there is a major war going on with many skirmishes on the side in other countries. Summers are hotter, wildfires regularly threaten towns and villages, hurricanes rampage coastal communities and tornadoes terrify those inland, and pandemics continue to bedevil us as the underlying virus mutates cleverly. The financial markets are in free fall and paper gains on newfangled instruments like crypto have evaporated.
I get many calls from persons who don’t know how to cope with all this. They are uneasy and some are downright scared about the future.
They all seek ‘peace of mind’.
There is no such thing!!!!
The mind is nothing but an unceasing stream of thoughts. And I mean unceasing.
There is a Sanskrit term to describe the mind that has no English equivalent. The mind is ‘chanchala’ by its very nature. It is turbulent, capricious, fickle, ever-changing, volatile, arbitrary, ill-logical and unreasonable.
Your mind is full of disasters that could happen, and you are filled with deep foreboding. Your mind thinks of potential happenings that could benefit you and you get elated. You generally spend far more time on the foreboding end of the spectrum than the elation side.
You recognize that the mind is a terrible taskmaster, and you try to make it an obedient servant. If only you could control your mind, things would go so much better for you. You firmly believe this.
Now I am going to share something with you that will appear outlandish. This is so contrary to what you have been told, so contrary to what everyone around you believes, so contrary to your own experience that you will be tempted to push it away instantly.
“Poppycock!” I can hear you say.
You live in a free country and can, of course, immediately walk away from what I am about to reveal. You will be doing yourself a great dis-service if you do.
So, suspend your disbelief and think about what I say. Think again and again.
Your mind does not exist. It is fiction. It is unreal. It comes into being because you think it exists.
When you try to ‘quiet’ your mind, when you try to ‘control’ it, you are doomed to failure. You are simply feeding energy to something that you have created, and which does not exist except you think it does.
One of my favorite Shakespearean sonnets is “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…”
It ends with these memorable lines “So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
In like manner your mind is given life because you believe in it. And it becomes stronger when you engage with it by trying to control it or quieten it or suppress it.
Ancient Indian mystics devised a powerful analogy to help you understand the dilemma you are in. Here is a modern version of their teaching.
It is dusk when you open your front door to go for a walk.
There is a snake coiled right in front of you on the stoop.
You slam the door shut.
You are worried. The weatherman says that rain is on its way. Flooding will cause the snake – and perhaps others – to seek shelter. Could they enter the house? You are aware of the cracks and crevices that could permit ingress.
You spend a sleepless night with the lights on as you sweep the floor with your flashlight looking for sinuous intruders.
In the morning you are exhausted, but safe.
You open the door a crack and heave a huge sigh of relief. A length of rope, partially coiled, is on your stoop. You recognize it as the cord that was around the firewood you had stacked on the side of your house.
Wearily you pick it up, drop it into your garbage can and head back into the house to make some coffee.
So, what did you have to do to protect yourself from that deadly snake?
You just had to see that there was no snake. It was merely a rope. You did not have to kill it or capture it or block its entry into your house.
In like manner, all you must do to protect yourself form the depredations of your mind is to understand it does not exist. It is merely a stream of thoughts. Some thoughts have the power to captivate you and sweep you away if you engage with them.
Don’t engage with any thought. And then you starve them, and they go away.
Annamalai Swami has a trenchant way of summarizing the lessons of his Guru, Ramana Maharshi.
You step out of your house to go for a walk. Your senses are instantly assailed. There are cars on the street. There is a pushcart vendor selling fruit. Two men seem to be having an argument some way down. A loud motor cycle zooms past going far too fast for safety.
You ignore them all. “Not my business,” you say.
In like manner, ignore the dozens of thoughts you have each minute. Don’t engage with them. Simply brush them aside. “Not my business.”
With practice you will become very good at this. And when you refuse to pay any attention to your thoughts, they will simply stop coming.
This is a simple teaching, but it is extra-ordinarily difficult. You will forget to brush off your thoughts. Sometimes you will forget within seconds of deciding you will not engage with them. And you will not remember again for days.
Don’t beat up on yourself. That is simply more mental chatter. Patiently go back to ignoring your thoughts.
Try again and again and again and again.
I warn you – this is a rest of your life endeavor.
The reward is that you will discover the “Peace that passeth Understanding.”
You cannot have peace of mind. But you can sink into the peace that transcends the mind.
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