Standing by the tracks, looking between the boxcars

mindful or mind fullLet me tell you what I get from living mindfully and with intention (trust me, it’s a good list): less stress, more sleep, more happiness, & less depression; I’m able to notice the beauty in the little things, spotcheck joyful moments throughout my day, appreciate the ups and downs in my relationships, and stop myself from getting angry over things I can’t control; I get to start every day in a positive mindset, ask the universe how I can be of service to others, and breathe. Just. Breathe. And be still. For no other reason than that the stillness makes me feel good.

This guy.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, mindfulness is not easy. Being mindful involves living in the moment. Literally living moment-to-moment, not dwelling on things that happened in the last moment, not worrying about what will happen in the next. I’m convinced this is actually impossible to do (unless you’re the Dalai Lama) because… life.

I do try. I aim for mindfulness during my day, but real life sneaks in here, there, & everywhere. I have mantras at the ready, short meditations to practice (for example, I do a lot of forgiveness meditations at work…), and mala beads in hand. But staying in the moment eludes me most of the time. I’ve started doing lovingkindness (or “metta”) meditations recently, and this is helping me focus while I’m meditating. But then as soon as I’m done, I’m thrust back into my reality of dogs barking, work deadlines, students needing things rightnow, relationship issues, schedules, meetings, obligations.

I think the key for me is to first aim for that presence of mind in my meditations and then work on expanding saagara-thoreauthat sensation to the rest of my day. And what I realized is that, as helpful as my metta meditations are in guiding me to be more empathic, these meditations force me to think. I sit quietly and concentrate on sending love to other people, repeatedly reciting my mantra about keeping people safe, happy, healthy, and surrounded by lovingkindness. And that’s the opposite of living in the moment, being present, being the watcher. So I must continue my quest for the meditation practice that guides me more toward living in the moment.

om mantra2
The om mantra

I found the short two-word mantras provided by Deepak Chopra during his 21-day meditation experience quite helpful… most of the time. The mantra is meant to help bring your focus back when your mind begins to wander, which is super. But I would realize about 15 minutes in that I FORGOT THE MANTRA and then I would sit there talking to myself about how I can’t even do this meditation correctly and who did I think I was, pretending to be a meditator when I can’t even remember a simple two-word mantra, stressing about the fact that I wasn’t doing it right and what the heck was that mantra anyway. So, maybe mantras aren’t for me.

Guided meditations are great, too (since they keep you on topic) but I often find that something the guide says reminds me of something else and then my mind is off and running thinking about that other thing. And then, “oh, shoot. What did he just say? I missed it. What did I miss? I’m doing this wrong.” Not quite the relaxed feeling I was going for.

So I’m on a mission to find the style of meditation that works for me. That teaches me how to stay present, mindful. I want to get to the point that I can truly “watch the train” that Stephen Levine offers as a metaphor for staying in the moment. It goes like this (stay with me here — it’s long but powerful): 

trainAn image about practicing meditation that may be helpful is that of standing at a railroad crossing, watching a freight train passing by. In each transparent boxcar, there is a thought. We try to look straight ahead into the present, but our attachments draw our attention into the contents of the passing boxcars: we identify with the various thoughts. As we attend to the train, we notice there’s supper in one boxcar, but we just ate, so we’re not pulled by that one. The laundry list is the next one, so we reflect for a moment on the blue towel hanging on the line to dry, but we wake up quite quickly to the present once again, as the next boxcar has someone in it meditating and we recall what we’re doing. A few more boxcars go by with thoughts clearly recognized as thoughts. But, in the next one is a snarling lion chasing someone who looks like us. We stay with that one until it’s way down the line to see if it got us. We identify with that one because it “means” something to us. We have an attachment to it. Then we notice we’ve missed all the other boxcars streaming by in the meantime and we let go of our fascination for the lion and bring our attention straight ahead into the present once again. 

We stick to some and we don’t stick to others. The train is just there — and the silent witness who’s standing at the crossroads also seems to be there. Those are the first stages of trying to be mindful, trying to stay in the here and now.

Then, as we’re a bit more used to being aware of the contents, BoxcarsLex3we start noticing the process of the train going by — just boxcar after boxcar — and our attention doesn’t follow every stimulus: we don’t keep getting lost down the track in the past or anticipating what’s coming from the future. So, we’re looking straight ahead, not distracted by any of the contents, when all of a sudden one of the boxcars explodes as it goes by. We’re drawn out into that one, we jump into the action in that boxcar. Then we come back with a wry smile full of recognition that it was just an image of an explosion, just a boxcar thought. And, again, we are straight ahead with just the process of passing boxcars… There’s all kinds of stuff in the mind. And we’re going to follow it, to be pulled by it, until we start seeing the impersonal, conditioned nature of the contents and recognize the perfect flow of the process itself.

Then we notice as we look straight ahead that we’re starting to be able to see between the cars. And we begin to see what’s on the other side of the train, what is beyond thought.

train5We experience that the process is occurring against a background of undifferentiated openness, that, moment to moment, mind is arising and passing away in vast space. As we experience the frame of reference in which all this melodrama is occurring, it begins freeing us from being so carried away — even by fear. We start seeing, “Ah, there’s the exploding boxcar trick again,” or “There’s the angry boss one again.” Whatever it is, we start seeing it as part of the process. We see it in context. The small mind that identifies with all that stuff starts becoming bigger and bigger and bigger, starts encompassing even itself in a mind so vast it has room for everything and everyone, including the train and the observer. And, then, even that fellow standing at the crossroads watching turns out to be just the contents of one of those boxcars, just another object of the mind. And awareness, standing nowhere, is everywhere at once. (from “A Gradual Awakening” pp. 29-31)

So that’s my new goal: breathe, stay in the moment, stop being pulled by the boxcars. See what’s on the other side of the train.

Bon voyage! I’ll be sure to write.

Sat nam.


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