In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert experiences the raw pleasures of delving one-pointedly into food, spiritual devotion and passionate love. While this was a paid writing vacation for her – could one be so blessed? – it enabled her to heal from a tumultuous marriage and divorce which she did quite successfully by committing her full attention to the above three pursuits.
My own attention in the story was most focused on the author’s time in India where she practiced meditation and mindfulness in an unnamed ashram, describing the glitches of the human condition as “the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment.” Isn’t this the infinite search we all employ at one time or another, or even all the time? And our mind so restless, turbulent and unyielding — is there a better way? Gilbert’s excruciating experiment of not swatting at mosquitos while meditating outside with swarming insects for one hour brings her mindfulness and meditation to an important new level.
These meditation experiences remind me of how much better I feel when I spend time in meditation, bringing the monkey-mind with me in acceptance of its ways, and slowly becoming refocused within rather than “out there” in busy-mind. I’ve been away from sitting meditation practice for quite some time but I do remember to check in at various times of the day asking, Where is my attention? What am I experiencing right now? So if I’m driving, I become acutely aware of my hands on the steering wheel, my sitting position and pressure points on the seat, my eyes on the road and periphery. There’s a ton of experience and stimuli going on. Why not keep attention here? I’m so out of practice that focus doesn’t stay — so I bring it back. Where is my attention? When I’m paying attention, there are no thoughts about what will my workday bring with all the changes happening there or how is our relative who is in the hospital. When I’m at work, then I can be aware of the changes and when I’m at the hospital I will be present with my loved one.
By being acutely, perpetually aware of our thoughts, we can see that the primary cause of unhappiness is not the events that happen but our thoughts about them, which has been said by many. Awareness in right-now-this-minute creates the space, clarity and calm to encircle every potential future action. Experiencing stillness within by focusing thought and doing this — with practice — all the time brings inner peace and serenity. We can all do this. Teachers abound: The Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Jesus, Mother Meera. Focused mindful traditions point the way: yoga, meditation, dance.
Experiencing peace and serenity I believe is attainable by anyone. Focusing the mind through inquiry into the self, breath, mantra, ecstatic dance, vision quests, yoga — pick your path — can help us to let things be as they are which allows life to unfold naturally and to have peace, inner knowing and joy — all natural states that have been habitually forgotten. Where is my attention now? And now?
Christine Goyer-Swift finds expression through writing and dance, and inspiration through long walks and solitude. “Writing is a window into my life, recording, witnessing and continually emerging.”