Eternal sunshine of the Teflon mind

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 28, 2014 – 12:00am

Do you control your mind or does your mind control you?”

I read this question some 20 years ago in a Zen book and it actually scared me. It did because I knew the answer and it was that my mind controlled me.

I knew it did because often, my mind would get so hyperactive that I couldn’t relax. When I was worried about something, my mind would go overboard thinking of the worst possible scenarios that could happen. I was always thinking. When I was curious, my mind would get too focused on something and I couldn’t let it go. My mind did not know how to rest.

My mind can seem like it is an entity that is separate from the rest of my being. It may sound funny to say it but my mind seems to have a mind of its own. It can lead me to different states and I often catch myself surprised at how I got there.

It was about the same time in my life when I read the quote above that I wanted to explore my own relationship with God, the nature of life, truth and the meaning of everything.

I was deep into my “midlifing” and I did not know it. I was looking for answers to life questions. I was looking for peace of mind.
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I knew that to have that, I had to change some things in my life. I needed to do new things and one of them was to have some sort of control over my own thoughts. This included knowing consciously when I was over-thinking, obsessing, or falling into familiar negative “scenario-making” patterns that gave me no peace.

I tried to detach from them at first with little success. I would always fall back into hearing voices in my mind pitching in the same negative opinions, fears anxieties about so many things.

One weekday when my wife was shopping in our neighborhood supermarket, she saw an old acquaintance whom she knew was involved with a Zen group in Marikina. After some chitchat, she asked about the Zen stuff and the woman said that they were open for new members to join that coming Saturday. There would be an orientation and an introductory session for potential members to give them a feel of what Zen meditation was all about.

I went that Saturday. I was in a group of about 10 people. We were asked why we were there. I think I mentioned that I was curious to find out what it was all about. At that stage in my life, I was also undergoing what I can only describe as a great “spiritual shift.” I had a great longing to find new answers to spiritual questions that had been bothering me, which the religion I was born into could not adequately answer. I wanted direct answers to my questions which dogma could not give me.

I remember one person in the newbie batch who was incessantly talking about practically everything. It seemed like he almost could not stop. I laughed inside as I observed how loud and noisy his mind was.

The teacher explained to us that Zen meditation was all about just sitting and quieting the mind. He said Zen was not for everyone. He did not talk much about anything else. I just remembered he said rather cryptically that just by sitting quietly on our Zen mats and pillows, we were somehow instrumental in saving the world. I secretly rolled my eyes at how “new age” that sounded. He then gave us instructions to sit daily at home facing a wall for 10 minutes and to come back the following Sunday.

Not only did I do the home sits, I went to the meditation sessions every Sunday morning for the next 10 weeks.

At the zendo (the place where we would meet and sit), everyone, old and new members, would sit for 25 minutes at a time in total silence. There was no talking at all except for the Sensei (teacher) who would give a teisho (talk) after a few rounds of meditations. Except for a few bells that rang and the sound of wooden blocks that would tell us when to begin to sit on the mats, end, stand up and do kinhin (walking slowly at the pace of the person ahead of you), everything was quiet.

No verbal instructions were given. The newbies had to observe and simply do what we were supposed to do. In this case, it was mostly to just sit quietly in proper Zen position.

The next few weeks, months, and years, I joined as often as I could. I diligently did 25-minute meditations daily, for weeks, without missing a day.

I gradually noticed a quieting in my thoughts. They were still there but I felt I had the power to withdraw involvement and merely watch them come and go. It was astounding how all this felt so liberating. The battlefield that was my mind had become a place of spaciousness. I felt like I had transferred from a cramped suffocating house into a bigger home with lots of fresh air.

It was the first time in years that I felt a “peace of mind.” I was hardly caught up in anything. While I continued with my personal concerns, commitments, advocacies, I did not feel trapped in them. I felt I was in control of the switches that could turn them on and off when I wanted to.

I also felt a lightness of being where everything was clear to me in both shallow and profound ways. In my mind, I felt there was nothing to keep and nothing to throw away. Everything was just within reach when I needed it. And I found that I was needing less and less of any particular thing.

I cannot say that I am free of all anxieties and negativity. I still do get pushed and pulled by many concerns and it can still mildly drive me crazy. But I know that I have tools that I can use now so I do not get “hooked” too much. I can detach, and come back to them when I feel like.

I use the imagery of Teflon to describe what my mind feels like now. While it may host a number of thoughts and opinions, it does not feel the need to keep them. Whatever negative thoughts find their way into my mind eventually leave. Nothing sticks. There is hardly anyone home. It is free and open like the clear blue sky.

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