Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Wandering Mind Looking for Stillness

by Zinta Aistars

“...a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind...”
                                                        ~George Harrison

Live in the moment, they say. At least half of our day, our minds wander to either the past or into the future. But happiness lies, it seems, in that state of being fully present in the here and now.

I heard this on Good Morning, America, the morning news magazine show I sometimes have playing on my television set downstairs while I am upstairs getting ready for my work day (and later, read it again in New York Times). Rushing to dress, gathering my things for the day, grabbing for my car keys, my mind raced between what I had left undone yesterday to what had to be done later in the day, in the week, the month, the year ....

I heard the man on the screen say the Buddhist monks know how to do this, how to be present in the moment, and they rate high in happiness. But most of us, most of the time, are anywhere but in the present.

"So now we know that being in the present means being happy, but the study does not tell us how to do this." He shrugged. "That will be for the next study."

I flicked off the television and rushed out the door into the garage to get going on my long commute to my office. The news bit rattled through my mind as I drove north, the 55 miles it would take me to reach work. It would be one hour in my day that I could allow my thoughts free rein, and of late, I had stopped listening to the radio, stopped listening to music, simply allowed my thoughts to wander inside this space of silence.

Sometimes my thoughts went to the past. I replayed recent happy times, pleasant travels, or brought up my children's faces, bright and shiny, in my memory. Sometimes my thoughts flew forward, and more times than not, they winged north, far north, and over the years to a time when I would no longer answer to anyone. When all my life work finally produced that longed-for result ...

And there I go, daydreaming.

I'm not sure I can wrap my mind around the study's implied advice to live in the moment. How does one plan for the future? How does one pursue a discipline, slog along day after day, if not with a bright light of achieved goal at the end of the line? Where would we all be without our dreamers today, but back in those Neanderthal caves ... and aren't we at least in part in this economic mess today because the American culture has become ruled by the mantra of I want it now! like spoiled children, rather than planning and saving for a future purchase? Yet it could be argued those some brats lack the ability to appreciate the now, the here, the status quo, and thus the constant dissatisfaction, forever filling voids that would not be filled.

Then again, that is something else entirely. One measure here was of happiness. The other measure is of a goal chased down and realized. One did not necessarily have to mean the other. And how many, having achieved their goal, expecting a moment of glory, find they are not so very happy at that point, after all. I knew such, more than a few. Always the grass was greener somewhere else, that place impossible to attain and always just out of reach, when all one had to do was to water one's own grass with more care to make it greener, right here, right now.

Could be those meditating monks spent lifetimes achieving that stillness in the mind that kept them anchored in the now. They do not worry about yesterday, they do not worry about tomorrow. They simply are. But I am an artistic sort, and art is always the product of some mind wandering, some daydreaming, some moment lost in reverie. Happiness in general may not be the best recipe for creativity. As necessity is the mother of invention, so necessity goes hand in hand with some as yet unresolved discomfort. And a good storyline... doesn't that always involve some quest? some conflict? a point of friction? a gasp of a cliffhanger? some unscratched itch somewhere?

When I let my mind wander to some future place, I realize it isn't envisioning something giddy with joy. Rather, I am in pursuit of a simple contentment. Joy passes all too quickly. Contentment has a way of lasting, hard won as the fruit of acquired wisdom and the struggles involved in pursuing enlightenment. Even as that means reaching a place in the future where I would long for nothing more than what I have .... yes, just to be ... in the here and now.

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