Quieting the Committee

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Interview panel holding score cards in officeAs I have alluded to in previous posts, tapping into our internal blueprint for living–God’s will if you prefer–requires quiet, thoughtful introspection. Just one issue with that, when I attempt to get quiet I notice that my mind typically doesn’t easily settle into a serene, introspective state. Instead there is chatter. Not one or two voices, but an entire committee clamoring for attention. It’s like a cable news panel discussion on steroids, crack and gallons of expresso.

Observing my mind is not unlike watching the bonus feature common on many DVDs–the director’s commentary. Scenes play out. But instead of being able to enjoy the scene as intended, there are voice overs by the director, assistant director, film editor, script writer and some boom operator named Chuck. They are all striving to be heard and it sounds like so much bla, bla, bla.

This, I suggest, is how our minds function much of the time. Judgments, running commentary, gripes and mindless chatter conspire to drown out the still small voice of the divine. If we are serious about looking within and finding that which we are meant to do, we need to learn to get quiet and become attentive.

Inattentiveness to our core self, mindlessness if you will, is our most common state. We rush from task to task, conversation to conversation or wallow in the next distraction. How infrequently do we pay close attention to what’s going on inside us? How often do we look within?

Because much of our day is comprised of routines–waking, showering, eating, commuting, going through the motions–our mind is freed to go a variety of places. Unfortunately, the two places my mind goes most frequently are the past and the future; two places I can do little about. My focus on the present, the now, is often left wanting.

Too often the committee in our mind is like the bucking bull in the rodeo and we are the hapless cowboy hanging on by one hand. One second the committee lunges into the past with all its regrets, the next second it jumps into the future with all the accompanying fears. If we are to gain control and thrive this lurching beast must be tamed.

“Whatever an enemy might do to an enemy, or a foe to a foe, the ill-directed mind can do to you even worse.” — Buddha

Unfortunately, many people attempt to tame the committee with alcohol, drugs, distractions or work-a- holism. This is not the answer. Intoxicants, shopping sprees, TV viewing, overworking or Web surfing, though they may bring temporary relief, are not healthy means of controlling the untamed mind. There must be a more wholesome, productive way.

In laying out the Twelve Steps, Bill Wilson hit on a concept not too common in the Western world in the 1930’s–he called for meditation. Meditation, a practice espoused for centuries in the East as a way to calm the frantic, distracted mind. Meditation,a must for those looking to live in the present and tap into the blueprint for living etched on our souls.

Meditation, properly practiced, provides a respite from the committee clamoring noisily within us. For me, it is not about shutting down the mind completely. Rather is about quieting the chatter so I can hear that still small voice of the internal guide.

Quieting the mind is not about studying theories and teachings about meditation as much as it is about practice. Practice is critical. In my youth I took copious amounts of piano lessons. Despite having no innate ability to master any musical instrument, no talent to speak of, with practice I became reasonably proficient at cranking out a tune. Similarly, successful meditation requires regular practice as a quiet, reflective mind is hardly our natural state.

It’s important to note that practice isn’t haphazard or one-and-done. Practice must be regular and involved. One can hardly expect to play Mozart after a couple of twenty minute sessions in front of the piano. Quieting the mind took me years of attempts. And still I note that if I don’t practice regularly I get rusty fast.

Here are the steps I practice to quiet the committee’s incessant chatter and gain some semblance of clarity:

Turn off all distractions. The “digital drugs” -TV, Internet, cell phones, etc.-need to be shut off. Relaxing, instrumental music may be appropriate if that is your preference … but just say no to the Yanni. Do you really need that visual of his swaying, cascading locks thwarting your attempts at serenity?

Breath. Too often, most of us exist in mindlessness, a state of semi-awareness governed by habit and inattention. To begin meditation, the focus needs to be on the now. Sit comfortably or walk purposely and focus for a few minutes solely on your breath. Block out all distractions. Just be present. If at any time during your meditation the mind begins to race, return to a focus on your breath to get centered.

Become aware, become the observer. Pay attention to what is occurring within your mind as it is happening. Watch your thoughts unfold. Don’t judge, don’t critique, just observe. This can be tricky. It’s not uncommon to want to judge what is going on and head off on all sorts of tangents.

Ask for a moment of silence. As you observe, you may notice various members of the committee vying for attention. This, unfortunately, is how the mind operates most of the time. To look within, however, it is often necessary to ask the committee to quiet down so you can listen to your heart. If it helps, give the various members of the committee names–Negative Nelly or Prideful Paul for example–and ask them by name to put a cork in it.

If you lack answers, request insight. If there is a particular issue that you would like addressed, ask within yourself for direction. This can take the form of a prayer for guidance if that works for you. Once you have asked, just listen. Don’t try to work out the solution in your mind. Did I mention this takes practice?

Record your insights. We live in an age of infinite distractions. The best way to benefit from meditation is to record your insights immediately following the meditative session before distractions wipe them out.

Run it by someone else. At times, especially early on, what we call internal guidance is just our rationalized self-interests. Twelve Step literature points out that even people of high spiritual development pass the guidance they have received by trusted confidants. This protects us from the blind spots many of us have in assessing spiritual insights.

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