My Experiment: Part 11
You can read part 10 here: Walking the Tightrope
Sunset at low tide, I’m wandering among the rocks at the nearby point, and I happen upon an enchanting little cove. Most of the time it’s under water, but when the tide is out, a small sandy beach is revealed, maybe thirty feet wide, embraced by a semi-circle of boulders and totally secluded from the shore.
I explore the area, enjoying the sensation of the soft, wet sand squishing around my feet. The encircling rocks serve both to insulate me from the shore and also amplify the sound of the crashing waves, making it feel like my own little world, nestled down there in the craggy point. This is one of the moments that totally engrosses me in its splendor, pulls me out of my head and into the present, immersed in the stunning grandeur of this astounding planet.
A prominent boulder lies in the center of the cove, and I scramble up to perch on top of it and let the peace consume me. As I sit there, immersed in the resounding ocean and fading golden light, I let my mind quiet and ponder all the plans my mind keeps forming. I’ve written extensively on this topic and now I start digging deeper into the root cause.
Why? Why does my brain keep devising these schemes, all these things I shoulddo. Even with activities that I enjoy, such as music and writing, my mind often creates a list of tasks I need to accomplish in order to reach some end goal. Take music for example, I want to become more comfortable playing and singing in front of people. There’s an open mic every Monday in town, so I’ve been performing there frequently. But then I feel this pressure to practice throughout the week, learn new songs, perfect my old songs. Pretty soon I’m practicing songs because I feel like I shouldin order to reach this goal of being better, not because I want to.
Most of the plans my mind concocts arise along similar lines. In order to reach some future state of happiness, I need to do X, Y, and Z. Once I accomplish these things, then everything will be ok and I’ll finally be happy.
I dig deeper. Why? What does happiness mean to me? For me, happiness occurs when I’m totally absorbed in the present moment. Something is fun when it totally engages my attention, leaves no room for extraneous thoughts and worries. Allows me to forget about myself and feel like I’m part of some greater whole.
With music, I have this vague idea that if I get better at performing, there will be some magical future moment when I’m playing with other musicians, and it will be awesome, we’ll get lost in the song together, co-creating some epic jam of entrancing beauty. At the root of this fantasy is the desire to totally absorbed in moment of creating music. That sometimes happens to me when I’m playing music alone, when I don’t have any plans and just play what I feel. So why all the plans?
Sitting there, pondering, I realize I have this core belief that things are not right, that something needs to be different before I can be happy. I need to do something, change something, get somewhere before I can be happy. I can often feel it in the depths of my mind, a tightness, almost like a muscle cramp, that prevents me from being at ease. This persisting idea that if I do these things, follow this plan, at some magical point in the future, everything will be ok, I can finally be totally happy.
Intellectually, I’ve understood all this for a while, but out here in this enchanting little cove, it sinks in at a deeper level. Feeling, in the depts of my being, what it means to be happy. To be free of worry, free of thinking that things need to be somehow different than they are.
External circumstances can help pull me into total absorption in the moment, but ultimately, it’s my mind that gets engaged in the present. I’ve been feeling that often here, in Costa Rica, where the sublime beauty of nature often consumes me. But the beauty just helps my mind relax, helps my mind let go of thoughts and be fully present. It’s the tightness that forms in my mind from the plan that prevents me from being present.
Recognizing that tightness as the root of my inability to be present felt like an epiphany. Now that I can identify that tension, I can work to release it. Similar to relieving a cramp by gently kneading the muscle, applying gentle mental pressure to the tightness in my mind helps relieve the strain and allows me to fully relax into the present.
But it requires constant attention, my mind easily starts racing off into a plan to make things better. I’m happy when I’m present, I’m happy when my mind isn’t full of thoughts. I don’t need to be doing something to be happy in the future. I can be happy right now, if I just let go of all my ideas about what I need to doto be happy, and just behappy. I’m sure this all sounds very cliché. My meditation teachers have been repeating this message throughout the ten years I spent studying with them. Now this understanding is finally sinking down into the root of my being, I can feelthe truth of the words instead of just understanding them intellectually.
More to come soon! Since that evening, I’ve had a couple more realization that I’ll share in future posts. Stay tuned…
You can read Part 12 here: Removing Barriers
6 thoughts on “Digging Deeper”
Regarding music, you have to practice so you can achieve the flow experience you are talking about. I just joined a trombone choir connected to the Valparaiso Community Band. At our first practice I could site read three of the songs. Two were more difficult and I will have to practice to be able to flow with the music. So I have to plan to carve out practice time. I’m not sure all planning disrupts the goal to be present in the moment.
Exactly, you have to find the right balance. It’s ok to have a plan and work towards something, as long as sticking to the plan doesn’t pull you completely out of the present.
This hit me where I live, I really appreciate you sharing your experience. It feels like the goal/idealized vision of what will make me happy shifts and changes, is so elusive and I am always chasing, but life is happening now in front of me and I cannot enjoy it because of that tension. Lots to reflect upon here.
“I realize I have this core belief that things are not right, that something needs to be different before I can be happy. I need to do something, change something, get somewhere before I can be happy. I can often feel it in the depths of my mind, a tightness, almost like a muscle cramp, that prevents me from being at ease. This persisting idea that if I do these things, follow this plan, at some magical point in the future, everything will be ok, I can finally be totally happy.”
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Green Shadow. We miss you in SSF!
Hey Kelly!! I’m glad to hear that resonated with you! I think our society teaches us from a very early age that we need external things to be happy, that we always need to be working towards some goal. It’s really tough to break out of that conditioning.
I miss you guys too!