Is Your Mind on Overdrive?

The mind can be a useful assistant, helping you to organize your life and complete tasks. It can also be a nag, constantly bothering you with worries and reminders. If not balanced with the calming energy of the heart or the breath, the mind can run amuck, always on high alert, looking for lists to make and problems to solve. Caffeine, in the form of coffee or tea, can exacerbate this. Meditation and deep slow breathing are helpful for slowing the mind down. This takes consistent practice, however. Meditators sometimes struggle to control their thinking instead of allowing thoughts to just pass through and disappear into emptiness. The mind can rebel by frantically running a commentary something like this: “What are you doing?! Stand up! Close the window. Take your vitamins. Make a grocery list. Do the laundry. Don’t just sit there!” Often lists will start forming in your head, and the mind will urge you to write them down immediately lest you forget. It requires an ongoing commitment to peace in order to relax your mind into accepting slow, quiet breathing and empty mental space. Being instead of doing.

Then there is the mind’s forte: problem-solving. Perhaps this skill is left over from our collective past when survival from dangers in the external world was of primary concern. Today, centuries later, the mental search for problematic issues to resolve is almost constant if not held in check. And if the resolution doesn’t come quickly enough, worry and agitation set in: “Why did I receive this incorrect billing? What does it mean? I have to call the billing office…but it’s closed now. What else can I do about it? What if the electricity is shut off?” The mental movement from concern to anxiety to outright distress can be rapid. The red warning lights go off, and the emotions and body are alerted. If this happens after dark, rest is impossible. You can be up worrying all night—because of one particular aspect of the mental process: night mind.

Night mind exaggerates every problem to the point of imminent danger and eventual disaster. It thrives on “what ifs.” Those inner questions can lead you down a path of increasing disquiet and finally alarm. Such questions also arise in the daytime, but at night they take on an amplified power. High drama prevails to the point that your body and emotions may feel like they are in a life-and-death situation. How to respond to this scenario? I’ve found that recognizing and naming it helps: “Oh, that’s night mind again.” If you can laugh about it, it breaks the spell. Remind yourself that everything will work out eventually; you just have to be patient. You can make your phone call (or other action) in the morning. Take deep breaths and envision a relaxing scene in Nature. Let go of trying to control your mind, and it eventually calms down enough for you to sleep.

In the daytime, recognizing the mind’s tendencies and determined work ethic helps. Thank it for its contribution. Reassure it that all will be resolved peacefully. Introducing peace into your life through meditation or quiet walks in Nature can be a tremendously effective way to calm the mind and allow it to function at a slower pace, with rest spots along the way. Thinking is an essential human attribute, but at times it can be a hindrance to your overall well-being. With each breath or each step on a quiet natural path, slow down and allow everything to be just as it is in that moment. Resting in the heart’s energy of loving-kindness is helpful too. Whatever solutions and actions that need to be implemented will come to be in their own time.

The key is to trust your life, to trust the unfolding of each moment, each day. In fact, time is irrelevant when you step into the spaciousness of a quiet mind. The heart and soul move to the forefront of your consciousness and reassure you that nothing is really a problem, that everything is part of the flow of life, perfectly orchestrated beyond your ability to understand or control it. If we each can surrender to this ancient truth, our minds begin to work harmoniously with us to bring balance and peace to our lives. So let go of trying so hard; remind your mind that something greater is in play and it can relax and be a quiet observer. All is well. Really.

Hope, Love, and the Web of Life

“I don’t know about hope, but I know about love…. Our job is to learn to love.”
—Robin Wall Kimmerer

In this time of heartbreaking political tumult and ecological grief, where do we turn for wisdom or comfort? For a reason to continue, in spite of how the world looks? This past weekend, I had the great honor and blessing of attending a program with Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She is a botanist, professor, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and beyond all else, a wise and caring soul. Repeatedly, during those three days, she asked the question: What does Mother Earth ask of us? Not what can we get, but what can we give? We are living in a time of shifting focus: from taking to giving, from self to community. Earth herself teaches reciprocity and connection. This is our heritage and our guidepost, if we pay attention, if we drop the cloak of self-centeredness and don the cloth of humility.

We are One, we Earth beings. All of us, plant, animal, human, bird, insect, stone, soil. Our lives and our destiny are interconnected. The web of life that holds us can be torn, but it can also be mended. Mother Earth is a gentle and forgiving presence in our lives; she is also a fierce protector of all of life. We cannot continue to destroy the environment and our living connections to one another. So many of our hearts are filled with grief now, for the visible and invisible ways the planet appears to be falling apart. “Grief is the measure of our love,” Robin said. “We can be the rain on one another’s grief and dryness.”

Her words carried such poignancy and power because she has dedicated her life to Earth wisdom, and she is also a descendant of those who walked the Trail of Tears, which forced native nations to leave their homelands and walk endless miles to reservations (in her family’s case, from Wisconsin to Kansas to Oklahoma). All ties to their specific sacred place on Mother Earth were broken. The grief of that severance continues to this day as indigenous peoples work to regain their ancestral lands. Earth herself was violated by similar cruelty as colonists took what they wanted from the land. We inherit that terrible history and are living with the consequences, that lack of reciprocity between human and human, between humans and Earth.

Reciprocity arises from love, and in spite of the violence that has torn, and continues to tear, the world asunder, love persists. When all hope is lost, love persists. When grief breaks our hearts, love persists. Love and grief together can heal the brokenness. Whether or not we believe that healing is possible, our job is to love. We came here at this specific time, on this specific planet, to be the love that persists, in spite of everything. Injustice and inhumanity exist, but so do compassion and kindness.

We are at a choice point in our tattered past, unsettling present, and uncertain future. We can choose despair, or we can choose love. Ask yourself, “What does Mother Earth ask of me?” As I stood on a wooded hillside at dusk in Western Massachusetts this weekend, listening to the sweet song of the wood thrush, I heard the answer in my heart: Remember your place in the web of life; choose love.

The Watchmaker and the Mirror

The only thing I remember from a philosophy course I took in college is one philosopher’s reasoning with regard to the existence of God: “A watch implies a watchmaker.” In other words, such a complicated creation as our universe must have been designed by a greater intelligence. It made sense to me, in my beginning years of exploring the meaning of life and whether or not I believed in a God. Looking back, after a lifetime of spiritual exploration, it still seems like a very believable observation. Yet there are so many other frameworks within which to view the universe and its “creator.”

Today, some scientists theorize that the universe doesn’t really exist until we observe it. That is, consciousness precedes reality, not the other way around. This perception aligns with ancient Eastern wisdom going back thousands of years. The watchmaker God/dess, or the Divine Mother, then is consciousness itself, existing within us as our souls. The entire universe, divine presence, and we ourselves are One. We exist within an infinite hall of mirrors, all of them possibilities, which become “real” as we observe or experience them in the Now. As we look into the mirror before us, only the reflection of the present exists; there is no past, future, time or space. When wise spiritual elders tell us that the present moment is all that exists, this is what they mean.

How do we receive this expansive awareness that is flooding into the world as we know it now? What is real? What is God? And who are we in our seemingly transient and mysterious lives? Ultimately, are these questions, or any questions, relevant if everything is One? Oneness dissolves the polarity within which separation (me and other) exists. It seems to me that this is partially what the Great Shift, foretold for centuries, refers to: the end of time, the end of space, the end of “other.” In each moment, there is only the reflection before me—an orchid, an oak tree, a robin singing, the face of a beloved partner or friend. Each of these engenders love in my heart, which is the essence of divine consciousness, also part of that reflection of Now.

What of death and eternity? How do they figure into this “only consciousness exists” scenario? Does this question, and the fear that accompanies it, also fall away if I immerse myself in the infinite presence that is Now? More and more, I am able to answer “yes” if it’s my soul that is looking in the mirror and not my time-based identity. Deep within my awareness I sense that, for each human being, soul and identity will eventually merge, and we will see the life before us with peace and acceptance, not questions. And of course, this is not the future; it is happening now. Because there is nothing else.

So you and I are the watchmaker, the present moment, infinite consciousness. I am you, and vice versa. When we breathe, it is the universe breathing. When we look into the mirror of infinity in the Now, there is no “other,” there is no death. All is one vast limitless expanse of beingness that we have given names and explanations and pinned our fears and uncertainties on. But the truth of this moment is the one image of beauty before me and the love I feel for everything, seen and unseen. This is God or Goddess; this is All That Is.

Simplify

I grew up hearing my father repeatedly quoting Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” A life without possessions and attachments. Of course, he was counseling himself because he never threw anything away. Like many of his generation who lived through the Depression era, he acquired a lifelong habit of saving things because “they might come in handy someday.” A philosophy born out of necessity, yet hard to shake decades later when it wasn’t as necessary, and accumulation could become burdensome. Thus, periodically he would announce his intention of moving to a one-room cabin in the woods, as Thoreau had done at Walden Pond. Simplify…

My mother just smiled and continued living her own simplified life. Although also living through the Depression, she had acquired a “clear the clutter” approach to daily living. She threw things away, or donated them, if they were no longer needed. She would get rid of any old, damaged, or extraneous objects lying around the house. My dad would retrieve them from the trash. She had her secret ways of working around his saving reflex. My favorite story about their dynamic took place when she wanted to discard an old braided rug on the back porch which was showing signs of mildew. Every few weeks she removed a braided circle from the outside edge of the rug and surreptitiously threw it away. The rug grew gradually smaller and smaller until she was able to dispose of it completely. When my dad eventually noticed, it then became a family joke. Because even with their differences, they did appreciate and love each other. As did I.

I learned to love both Thoreau and “clearing the clutter” because of my father and mother. In essence, they did live a perfectly simple life together. Neither believed in consumerism or buying unnecessary things. We had all that was needed for a happy life: food, shelter, each other, and gratitude for the small wonders of life, like Nature right outside the door. I grew up in my own version of Walden: five acres in the Illinois countryside. Toys were never as important to me as the trees I climbed (and picked fruit from), the creek I waded in, and the fields I ran across with my dog. When I think of a “simple life,” this is what I see. And, even though I have resided in or near cities for most of my adult life, it is how I live: trees nearby, yards and parks, rivers or ocean.

The natural world, and the simple life, can be found in an urban environment as well as anywhere else. You just have to look for it, and then choose it, consistently. We don’t all have the opportunity to move to a cabin in the woods as Thoreau did, but we can always simplify. To me, that means focusing on Nature’s ever-present miracles and not the passing distractions of the overcomplicated material world. We can build a peaceful, inspirited life based in simplicity. The entire universe lives in those wondrously simple details. That is what Thoreau (and my parents) believed. And the more years I live, the more this essential wisdom guides my life. “Simplify” says it all.

Expansion, Not Decline

Is your body demanding your attention lately? Are your emotions on edge? Do you feel as if your health is declining, your sense of optimism impaired? You are not alone. Almost everyone I know has been facing some kind of physical issue or challenge over the past year or so, including myself. Breast cancer flipped my daily world view upside-down. Yet, as I gradually learned to experience it with a peaceful, accepting heart, calm arose within me to face whatever I needed to without despair or negativity. My soul guided my body, mind, and feelings throughout. Sometimes we have to pass through depression or emotional upset to reach that overview, but it can happen. This is the challenge of these times we are living through, especially during a global pandemic.

How can we come to see physical pain or illness in a positive rather than negative light? Perhaps by seeing it as a cleansing or clearing of your physical form so that your soul can shine more fully and brightly. These are times of expansion, not decline. We are welcoming the complete embodiment of the soul in our bodies. Physicality is the densest part of you, and it will be the last to transform. The heaviness of form is being overhauled to receive the lightness of formlessness, our natural and eternal state. The key to an easier transition may be to view physical illness or pain as metamorphosis, a path to clarity and fulfilment. You are shedding your identity and your past and walking into a new vision of life and yourself. It may feel intensely challenging, but if you look closely, the doors are opening. No matter what is occurring, your soul chose this life path for your greater evolution. Welcome to the Great Shift on Planet Earth.

This applies not only to physical difficulties but to the overall political/social turmoil in the world. The entire planet is experiencing a cleansing. A new Earth is being born. And birthing pains often accompany such a major event, personally and globally. So hang on: you are not deteriorating; you are expanding. Hard to believe at times, but we are being asked to imagine, and live, this vision of a new fully embodied soul, in our selves and our planet. We incarnated at this time for exactly this. Your physical body and Mother Earth herself are shedding density, welcoming conscious awareness of spirit everywhere. Even what seems to be the worst scenario holds within it a seed of awakening.

There is nothing “wrong” here. Nothing “terminal.” Neither age, diagnosis, nor life events can kill your spirit. Your soul is eternal; consciousness too is eternal.  You as beingness exist beyond time and space, beyond mind and emotions, beyond thoughts and expectations. The world is a temporary landing point for your evolution and expansion. We are all part of the divine unfolding of infinite consciousness. Even if you think things are bad or intolerable, there is something greater occurring beyond human understanding. You are journeying through ascension, not decline. Your soul knows the way. Relax and surrender to the cosmic trip God/dess has orchestrated. When you feel lost or alone, hold in your awareness a vision of our blue planet turning golden and our souls shining brightly in the cosmos. At the soul level, our hands are joined, circling the globe as one energy, one expanding light. In pain, sorrow, or joy, you are always part of this collective life spirit. Look up at the morning sky and recall the words of e.e. cummings:

“This is the sun’s birthday, this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth”