Thinking is becoming a lost art, not just worrying, planning, remembering, judging and all of the usual mind fluctuations we cram into the brief moments of respite between tasks and technology but real, deep, purposeful, creative, imaginative thinking. When was the last time you sat with a cup of coffee and just gazed out the window, allowing your mind to wander and drift with no agenda or destination?
Our minds are incredible but many of us don't allow them much freedom, tying them down to task after task and distraction upon distraction almost constantly and then feeling surprised by the way they respond when they are eventually let off the lead. Often as we sit down to meditate or go to sleep this incredibly helpful subservient mind we have put to work all day can become wild and unruly, uncooperative and uncontrollable, like a wild animal escaped from captivity.
I remember learning that Carl Jung believed that eastern style meditation practices might not necessarily be the most suitable meditation style for western minds. He believed that these practices were designed for minds that are working in a completely different way to our own and perhaps balancing these eastern mind focusing techniques with techniques that welcome a wandering mind and therefore more access to the subconscious could be the key to more mental balance. This made a lot of sense to me straight away.
There’s a time and a place for training focus and concentration but I have also come to see how beneficial it is to surrender to more liminal, drifty, expansive and diffuse mind states, states that can often be encountered during yoga nidra or restorative yoga. In these practices my mind isn't coerced or tethered but rather follows its own course to stillness, like the way a river meanders to the ocean, often unearthing insights, creativity and clarity along the way.
I don’t feel strongly that one way or the other is the ‘right’ way, as with everything in my life I feel that an intelligently intuitive approach is often the best course of action. And in different seasons of my life I lean more heavily on one approach than the other. Meditation practices that have helped me to build awareness of my samskaras (the negative habitual patterns of my mind) and retrain my mind towards more helpful thoughts patterns have been infinitely useful but I can also see how some days a practice that keeps drawing my mind away from natural wandering and back to an anchor (whether breath, body or something else) can stop me from accessing altered states of consciousness that reside just beyond my attention. These states can provide effortless access to a deep pool of unconscious, insightful wisdom and clarity, as well as helping to release deeply held physical, mental and emotional tension that just isn't able to be thought away.
Perhaps this is why I love yoga nidra and restorative so much. I spend a lot of my day concentrating, focusing and tethering my mind to a particular course of action whereas something I spend less time doing is surrendering and letting go. In my own meditation practice I often need at least 10 or 15 minutes of untethered wandering before I feel ready to focus on anything at all and many people I have spoken to feel the same.
For me constantly keeping the mind tethered feels like keeping a wild animal in captivity, as long as I keep the cage door closed all is ok, it might be a bit mad but at least I feel like I have some semblance of control but god forbid that door should open and suddenly my mind is roaming free, unruly, uncooperative and uncontrollable. I remember the old days before mobile phones when my mind had many more opportunities for natural drifting; waiting in a queue, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, waiting for the kettle to boil. There were many natural pauses throughout the day that presented opportunities to process thoughts, feeling and emotions. When I’m immersed in an unhealthy relationship with technology and distraction the only time left for this is at night when I sleep. No wonder a full night of sleep can be so elusive at times.
So I’m taking back my time and with it space for distractionless drifting, directionless wandering and simply being. A simplicity that is my birth rite as a human animal.
Photo (c). @ellieindyablack 2019