“We have two eyes to see two sides of things, but there must be a third eye which will see everything at the same time and yet not see anything.”
~ Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki
If you could just pause and follow me for a moment now. Sit yourself up in a comfortable position, rest your hand on your lap, close your eyes.
And as you settle in to the moment, simply let yourself breathe in, and breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Try to make it to 10 counts.
See how many it takes before the first flicker of thought pops into your head, about someone, about some time. Before the first urge is triggered to do something else, to be somewhere else.
It took me less than 5 at my first attempt at Mindfulness Meditation. About 10 at my following ones.
To give yourself another figure, if you’d like, note down how many times in a day you find yourself thinking about something from the past, or imagining something about the future.
How fascinating it is to realize, while we spend every moment of our waking hours in the Present, how much of it we actually spend experiencing it and how much effort it takes do something as simple as being in the Here and Now.
We all carry with us from the past our little hang-ups and emotional baggages. Which may not necessarily big enough to take over our present lives, but significant enough to hold us back from making use of it and enjoying it fully.
I for one am pretty well-acquainted with my own recent hang-up. I was carrying it with me for months. Every single day since the very start of this year, when I found myself within only the first few hours of January 1, 2012 deeply crushed by a mix of events that left me wildly confused and heavily stormy-weathered.
Like anyone going through a period of major emotional turbulence I spent the following several months finding ways to return to a state of inner peace, and more importantly, letting go of it first completely.
I went down some of the old-fashioned ways; talking about it in hope to ‘get it out there’ so it doesn’t eat me up inside, jotting down thoughts related to it in hope to ‘turn it into something tangible’ that I can physically shred into pieces and chuck away, or flooding myself with images of the event in hope that I would get tired and just grow out of it.
I even came up with my so-called own method of life acceptance, where at any time I found myself about to explode in tears, I would put my hand on my chest and to every emotion or thought I experienced I would reply, “That’s alright.”
The trick worked wonders in helping me remove a lot of the anger and internal turmoil. But it wasn’t enough to return me to that constant peaceful state of being.
It was as if I’ve come to accept the fact that the baggage I was carrying is heavy; but am still weighed down by the fact that it’s still on me, slowing down my every step of walking forward.
So when I read about how one of the benefits of practicing meditation is helping one ‘let go of the past’, I jumped right onto the boat.
Each time, both in and out of my meditation hours, the smallest hint of thought related to the January 1, 2012 event and everything else that predated it came over, I would deny it entrance. In my head I would mentally catch it and throw it away. Catch it, throw it away. Catch it, throw it away. Think nothing. Think nothing. Think nothing.
It wasn’t easy. Tiring, in fact. And a few weeks into practice, I was getting frustrated.
With only moving up my ‘staying in the present’ time record to a little less than 20 seconds, it didn’t seem like meditation was the thing. I was starting to question if it was even at all humanly possible for people to be completely absorbed into the present and unaffected by anything that is otherwise.
Up until I figured out what was not quite right; about both my understanding of what mindfulness meditation is, and all of the procedures I’d ever gone through in trying to ‘let go’.
In my attempt to push away the past and embody the present, I was actually making my past, my present.
Whenever I talked about it, whenever I wrote about it, whenever I flooded my mind with memories of it, even whenever I put my hand on my chest to comfort myself by accepting it, and whenever I caught it and sent it away before it would catch me first, all the conscious effort I was making – though done in good spirit – became the act of turning my history into my current reality.
The reality where my inner life suddenly became a war zone between my lone-soldier Present and the thousand-men army of my Past. And that certainly is no peace.
But the comfort is to learn that the concept of mindfulness meditation actually recognizes the fact that it is inevitable for you to start reminiscing and feeling when you’re only trying to give your mind and heart a break.
And thus the goal isn’t necessarily for you to prevent it, much less fight it; but for you to be aware of it, to acknowledge it, and most importantly, to then return your attention back to the Here and Now by putting the rest into the background.
Once I understood that, I was no longer on the edge of my seat trying to constantly safeguard my present state of mind from the colonizing thoughts of my past.
Whenever January 1, 2012 came to mind, I would now greet it briefly then gently tuck it away into the background.
I let it run around on its own in a private little secret garden – the whereabouts of which I don’t care to know – while I return to the little sounds, sights and scents that are around me, and the faintest sense of involuntary movements that take place effortlessly in my body.
Much like Death to Life, Wrong to Right, I’ve come to accept Past as something that Present can’t exist without. The trick, therefore, is to create a separate space in the back of my head for my past to exist without intruding my present.
Whenever Past starts knocking on the door of my attention, I would simply say to it, “No, I don’t have time for you. Go to the back and tire yourself out running around. I have a sound of rain to dance to.”
Once you reach that point, your past no longer becomes a baggage that you forcefully carry around and weighs you down. It merely becomes a harmless weightless crab that’s caught on to the back of your shirt and just tags itself along.
Sometimes you’d turn around for a second to look if it’s still there, then you say, “Oh, hi”. But then you turn your head right back around again to continue walking forward, taking one single breath at a time.