It’s been quite a busy week with my son performing as Hamlet in his last high school show. His grandma flew in for the event so our plate is full with family activities, plus I’m helping him plan for a month long graduation adventure overseas. So I’m taking a blogging break and sharing one of my earliest blogs that I find I need to revisit. My mind is reeling! As I carve out time in the early morning for my spiritual practice, I’m anticipating all the exciting changes ahead, refueling my documentary work, post-Hamlet parties, graduation, and more parties, helping him plan his move to Los Angeles when he returns from his trip, and of course the looming empty nest syndrome.
How to Quiet our Mind? What about you? When you attempt your spiritual practice, is your mind mostly a busy highway, or more like a field of lilies?
Or is it cluttered with negativity, like a bad neighborhood or beach lined with litter — or perhaps a garden that needs just a bit of weeding?
Do you struggle with armies of thoughts, insecurities or anxieties invading your better intentions of entering blissful fields of God’s love? Or is it easy for you to simply abide in God?
A while back I went through an intense period of several weeks where negativity and anxiety invaded the pleasant alleyways of my mind like an army of terrorists parachuting into San Diego. These weren’t everyday worries, or nagging insecurities — these were pillagers of peace. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the armies invaded. It just happened one day and lasted for at least a week.
When sitting in bed each morning to begin my spiritual practice, no matter how hard I tried, dark, cloaked faces of thugs lingered in the shadows of my brain – or armies of other’s expectations marched in like old curmudgeons with wrinkled faces shaking crooked fingers in my face scolding, “What’s wrong with you, why don’t you get a real job”? Voices of self-criticism towered over me like giants, “you’re not doing enough”,“your too old for that”, “look how flabby your legs got,” “nobody really likes you”. Worries, restlessness, fearfulness, manic ambitions, To-Do lists, spinning over and over like a broken record, trailed behind.
Some days the thoughts came like the masked terrorists, other times like gnarly trolls rising to the surface from swampy, smelly waters, leeches clinging to their noses — the old voices of critics from my childhood, “You’re too sensitive, too deep.” “Girls can’t do that”. “Whats the matter with you, you’re always whining”.
Just days before, all was well with my soul. Where were these creepy, deranged characters coming from?
Finally, I came upon a scripture that pierced through the uninvited, temporary madness: ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’.
As Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk and author once said, “I will no longer wound myself with the thoughts and questions that have surrounded me like thorns.”
If bullies entered your neighborhood, wouldn’t you call the cops? These negative curmudgeons needed to be put on lock down, then shipped to San Quentin. Just as a good parent wouldn’t let her child run out into the street, I needed to harness these mind invaders, turning them over to the Prince of Peace.
It’s giving over the lies of our mind to truth – to the mind of Christ – to the mind of love, compassion, kindness, peace, generosity, hope and healing. It’s the divine way of transforming our minds.
For the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6
Jesus told his disciples “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
And in resting our souls in Christ, we rest our minds.
As we cast our cares into the well of Christ’s love, in the light of goodness, of greatness, our minds become unburdened.
St. Paul said, fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
We can find more practical ways to deal with our anxious minds by observing the thoughts as they come unbidden. In this way we become familiar with their narcissism, the way they parade around like commanders invading foreign territory, plotting and scheming strategic take overs of brain mass.
I’ve become much better at observing these sneaky invaders – I watch them like an ornithologist observing the flight patterns of birds who noticing minute details — the shifting angle of the bird’s wings, or whether they clump together in flocks or fly solo, or whether they glide with the wind or pump their wings fiercely. I observe my thought patterns like this: Ah yes, here they are again — arising from the dark cellars of my subconscious, the critical voices of my childhood prancing like proud peacocks on a stage, carrying black plastic bags of shame. I offer them the moment of fame in the spotlight they so crave, until they finally get bored, and flee. I notice how they come and go at their leisure, until, in my patient waiting, a warm rush of God’s love arrives. In the light of God’s love, their act is over.
Love outshines the darkness. Perfect love drives out fear.
Whether it’s minutes or days before we can experience God, by observing our thoughts we soon realize we are not our thoughts. In fact, beyond the untruth of our anxieties, our past experiences, negative family dynamics and thinking patterns, busy lives, we are beloved children of God. We’re not the self-loathing voices saying we’re not enough of this or that – that we don’t have enough money, success, or Twitter followers. We can ignore the voices saying we’re too much of something or another — too fat or too thin, too lazy, or too odd. We also realize our busy minds can slow down, we don’t have to be passengers on the roller coasters of life.
By paying detached attention to my thoughts over the years, I’ve discovered at times a thin space – otherwise unnoticeable – within my noisy mind. It’s a narrow doorway to silence. When I do find it, it’s a tiny opportunity where I can escape from the hold of my trampled mind. It’s like the empty space between Adam’s and God’s finger in The Creation of Adam — a thin opening where I can make a choice to flee from my mind’s shenanigans and worldly fretting. When Jesus talks about the way to God he describes it as a small gate that is narrow, and yet it is the road that leads to life –yet only a few find it.
So find the narrow way, and make your thoughts captive to the mind of Christ. It is the truth, not the lies of our minds, that will set us free.
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