Recently, when a friend asked what I’d been up to lately, I replied, “I’ve been working a lot on my mind.”
I know. I was surprised to hear it come from my mouth too.
But it does actually sum up what I’ve been doing over the last year or so. I’ve been actively cultivating mindful awareness. I started this blog to force myself to slow down enough to observe life. I’ve read and meditated, prayed and journaled, all with the intent of finally paying attention to what’s going on in my head.
It has been life-changing. It has not always been fun.
It is alternately startling and appalling to realize that much of what goes on in your own mind are stories that you yourself have made up, not “the truth.” It’s sobering to realize that it’s your own fears – not circumstances, genetics or those yahoos in Washington – that are keeping you from getting what you really want. It’s overwhelming to try to find time to meditate every day when your calendar is full to bursting with things that seem infinitely more important than taking care of yourself. It’s shattering to acknowledge the staggering number of days you’ve not really shown up for your own life.
Transformation, best I can tell, comes in two speeds: slow and barely noticeable or fast and traumatic.
Practice is an example of slow transformation. I’ve always had a resistance to “creating a practice” because I was never sure what that meant. (It sounded suspiciously like “practicing the piano” which I was never very good about.)
But lately I’ve begun to realize that practice doesn’t have to be good. Practice is where you can cheerfully fail, try and experiment and mess up and try again. Because practice is not where it counts, really. Rather practice prepares you for the game (or the recital or the play) where the results do matter. It was such a relief to realize that it really doesn’t matter how agitated or distracted I was on the mediation cushion this morning. What matters is that later in the day, I just might catch myself lost in an unhelpful train of thought, and bring myself back to the moment. I’m not training for the yoga Olympics, but a regular practice can prepare my body to handle the demands I might make of it later.
Erosion is also slow transformation: the gradual wearing away of the landscape. Of course our own lives are subject to erosion as well: the slow progress of laugh lines on the face of a beloved, or the slow progress of disease, brought on by a lifetime of poor choices. Unlike practice, erosion is an entirely passive process, and one that largely goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
Then there is the radical transformation. There is the storm or the sudden death or the inescapable conclusion that forces alteration, right now. It’s rarely easy or welcome, but there is something to be said for the abrupt change. It reorders (and likely shortens) your priority list. It burns bridges behind you, forcing you forward on your path. And it reminds you to be grateful for what remains, what is good, what you love.
This business of “working on my mind” has been one of profound transformation, both of the slow and fast types. It is rewarding and humbling and vexing all at the same time.
It is not done.
Back in college I remember talking to a friend who spoke English as a second language. She gave me an appraising look and announced “I like what you’ve done with yourself.” The strange turn of phrase made me smile inwardly at the time, but it has stuck with me in the years since. It’s especially apropos now. I’ve essentially been going through a long, arduous mental remodel. Nothing has gone according to plan. I’m over-budget and way past my deadline. But, in the end, I kind of like how I’m turning out too.