The Wandering Mind

In Western culture, we learn to let the mind direct us, as if it were the designated all-knowing leader on a journey through the uncertain jungle of life. The mind is ever-busy, looking for problems to solve, but it often gets lost in the looking. The mind’s focus is always shifting, past or future: looking backward with regret or forward with trepidation. Rarely present, it leads us down a path of endless, restless movement, never at peace with life as it is. The expression “your mind is wandering” is a fairly accurate description of our usual mental state—unless we find a way to break the habit of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

If we happen to meet a Buddhist or yogi on our life path, we may encounter a different way of looking at the world: focusing on the present moment, one breath at a time. This changes everything. I began a meditation practice (insight meditation) about 40 years ago, and it has gradually shifted how I see the world and how I live day to day. Or rather, moment to moment. All the wise teachings I have encountered over the years have emphasized present-moment awareness, the key to peace of mind. This is accessed through the breath—because you can’t breathe in the past or future. Focusing on each breath, I am brought back to the now, and peace arises within me. My mind stops wandering, and I experience the peace of presence.

It is not an instant overnight occurrence; it is a practice. And I am still practicing, reminding myself to return to the breath, to the present, to peace. This may be the greatest wisdom of my spiritual journey—to rest in the peace of mind that arises from that deep awareness. Whenever I find myself worrying about some future event or regretting something I did or said in the past, if I can remember to take a deep breath and come back to the moment, I am at peace again. And nothing else exists but that peace. The more I repeat this process, the deeper it is ingrained in me, and the more easily I shift into it.

Basically, that means aligning with my soul, because the soul never feels fear or regret. It lives in the present moment, and there, there is only peace. The soul is always with us throughout our lives to gently remind us of that peaceful space within us. Perhaps that is the reason for all life journeys: to discover the peace that is the source of all life on Earth. In peace, there is no suffering. No judgment or fear or struggle. We can look in each other’s eyes and see the light that connects us all to a greater universal peace. We let go of fear and allow trust to arise in our hearts.

There is a wonderful animated film called How to Train Your Dragon. In it, the main character, a young Viking, turns away from aspiring to be a dragon slayer when he looks into the eyes of a dragon he is about to kill and sees the same vulnerability and fear that is within him. Instead, he reaches out and touches the dragon, and they become lifetime companions, each looking out for the other. The Vikings and dragons gradually learn to live in peace and harmony with one another.

Many of us live with a dragon of fear and mistrust within us, on the defense against past or future danger and misfortune. Our minds have learned to be our defenders, ever wandering in search of problems. If we befriend that dragon and “train” it to trust life, we can live in peace. With each breath, we have that opportunity. The mind can stop wandering and rest in the beauty and peace of the present moment.

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