Anyone who has ever tried meditation quickly discovers that the mind in the midst of daily life activity hums along at what feels like a normal frequency. But sit in silence and try the simplest act of counting the breaths to still the mind’s chatter and it’s like the hotel TV is on with all 500 cable channels blaring. It’s really quite extraordinary how much is in there, from advertising jingles from your childhood a half-century ago to wholly internalized jazz solos to just the constant idle chit-chat of 100 monkeys jumping around in your neural circuitry. When you actually can learn to follow your breath past the count of one and let the chatter dissolve into the background, a whole new world reveals itself and a new sense of time and occasionally, timelessness surfaces. You begin to co-participate in the constant creation of each moment, born in the inhale and dying in the exhale.
After a 40-year practice, I’m reasonably adept at this while sitting cross-legged on a cushion. But what concerns me now are the conversations that appear when you awake at 2 in the morning and won’t go away just because you want them to. These are the ones that reveal your anxiety about this, that or the other thing and though you know it’s not a good idea to keep feeding those streams of thought, you do anyway. At 2 in the morning.
As mentioned at the end of my travels, I was well aware of and supremely grateful for almost two months in the Fantasyland of freedom that the traveling teacher enjoys. No meetings, no tangled relationships, no long-term commitments. But the punishment was coming home and jumping from the beach chair into the fire. Suddenly, all at once, three or four major decisions out of my hands that will deeply affect my life and my happiness, situations that I need to put trust in others to do the right thing knowing that their version of right and mine may differ.
And so, one moment I’m happily riding my bike along the San Francisco waterfront on the first sunny day in five days back and then, Bam!! the monkeys (or more like chest-beating gorillas) appear and start some train of thought that I can’t seem to jump off from. Maybe this is where the idea of shouting “Get thee behind me, Satan!” came from. But does it work?
So friends, if you have any helpful strategies to shut down the gorillas of anxiety, I’d be happy to hear them. Meanwhile, maybe a sleeping pill tonight?