Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Riding the Wild Waves of Mind

The wild waves of mindLately, so many strong emotions have been popping up for me.  Anger, attachment, jealousy, fear.

I find that I still get swept away, but I no longer drown.  And it’s far easier to get back to shore.  This is all due to having perspective.

As you may know, mindfulness meditation effectively calms the mind. But it’s not permanent.

Our mind is like a glass of muddy water.  If you don’t stir it, the mud will settle to the bottom and the water becomes clear.  But as soon as you stir it, the water becomes muddy again.

Life is constantly stirring us up.

Mindfulness practice reduces the chaos of relentless thinking, but we need something more to fully uproot our fundamental misperception and the tendency to repeatedly embroil ourselves in all these captivating emotions.  This is clear seeing – an entirely different perspective – which gradually emerges from the bedrock of mindfulness.

People often mistake meditation as a way to eliminate thoughts and emotions.  That’s impossible.  Your current thoughts and emotions are the result of your past actions, thoughts, and emotions.  This is the law of cause and effect known as “karma.”  There is a drama going on, but it’s one you’ve created yourself.

If the idea of “karma” seems too exotic for you, think instead of “habits.”  The more you repeat a habit, the stronger it grows. We are the sum total of our habits – our thinking and emotional patterns, recurring reactions, typical behaviors.  For most of us, it’s an endless cycle of dissatisfaction interspersed with occasional moments of happiness. But, there is a way out.

The Magical Display of Mind

The trick is to understand the nature of thoughts and emotions themselves – to establish a different view or perspective.  This is what ultimately releases us from the suffering of turbulent emotions.

Simply said, whatever appears in the mind is the magical display of your true nature.  Think of waves in the ocean.  The waves aren’t separate from the ocean.  They are just a momentary expression of water and wind.  They arise from the ocean and return to the ocean.  Sometimes the waves are huge, some times they are barely a ripple.  But the ocean is never fundamentally disturbed by the waves.

It’s the same with mind.  Thoughts and emotions are simply the expression of the nature of our mind. They rise from our true nature and dissolve back into it.

The trouble with us is that we take our thoughts and emotions far too seriously.  We think they are solid and real and cling onto them for dear life.  But thoughts and emotions are neither real nor unreal. They are just transitory phenomena like the waves on the ocean.  You can skillfully ride a wave – recognizing its true essence – until it naturally dissolves back into the ocean. There’s no need to immerse yourself in the wave or to be battered or bruised by it.

As long as you have mind, there will be thoughts, emotions, perception, experience.

The risings of mind don’t change.  What changes – with the support of meditation – is how we perceive and respond to them.  This is what creates positive karma.

Even if you are a great meditator, strong emotions will rise up from time-to time.  It’s an inevitable surge of past karma encountering causes and conditions – the potential triggers in our life.

Unlike the past, I now understand that the best approach is to simply surrender.  Of course, I still protest, wriggle, struggle, and try to fight against difficult circumstances and my responses to them.  But in moments of clarity, I let go.  In those moments, all the pain and suffering drains away.  For a moment, I can see how ridiculous it is to hold on to anything at all.

I can’t control the circumstances that manifest around me.  People may be friendly or unkind.  Challenges and tragedy may appear out of nowhere.  All I can really change is my perspective.

Reflection:  Clear Seeing

For this week’s reflection, I’ve chosen a quote from the great 14th century spiritual master Longchenpa.  These insightful words capture the unceasing play of emptiness and appearance within our mind and the world around us.

“Since things neither exist nor don’t exist,
are neither real nor unreal,
are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting –
one might as well burst out laughing.”

You wouldn’t get angry at a rainbow.  So why fret about thoughts and emotions?

Of course, this is far easier said than done.  Acquiring such a profound view is a lifelong journey.  While it might be easy to understand intellectually, great teachers always warn us not to mistake understanding for realization or realization for liberation.  Nevertheless, savor any glimpse you have and let it blossom into a stream of clear seeing.

What do you do when your mind is stormy?

This post is part of my weekly series of Reflections for An Inquiring Mind which appear every Sunday.

If you enjoyed this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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35 Comments

  1. Hi Sandra,
    There is so much about this that speaks to me. My theme word for 2010 is ’embrace’. I was half way through the year when I realized that yes, embrace is good..but surrender is releasing struggle, so I became mindful to balance the two. I find when I surrender to the flow, the process is so much more enjoyable and I am able to stay focused. When I feel anything less than peace filled, that is my personal clue to look at my life and see if there is an area I may surrender to.
    The other day I was thinking that when storms hit the boat, I know she is well prepared from the work I’ve done in advance, so now I often just sit back and ride out the storm. When my mind is stormy I do the same…I sit back and practice that which restores peace in my life: laughter with friends, yoga, playing my drum, and/or I head outside. I also quick make a list of what I am grateful for that circumstance. And the storm seems less severe and more manageable.

    • Joy,

      This is such sage advice. I agree that when our mind becomes stormy chances are there’s a place where we need to surrender. I really appreciate how you tune in when there’s a storm: “When I feel anything less than peace filled, that is my personal clue to look at my life and see if there is an area I may surrender to.” I like your tips for riding out the storm too !

      I also appreciate your experience of working with a word. It’s so important to not get stuck on a “word” we choose as a guidepost and to see all facets of it including its seeming opposite.

      Thanks for taking the time to add this valuable perspective.

  2. Surrendering is the key Sandra.

    Ironically, in a spiritual sense surrendering is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of faith; a way to say I need help so I’m turning all of this over to You.

    When I do that, I gain clarity and freedom to move forward.

    I’m pulling for you!

    Alex

    • This is another beautiful gem of advice, Alex. Yes, surrender is the key! Once I did the storms subsided. Thanks for pulling for me.

      • RichHartford

        One way to strengthen our faith and to be able to surrender effectively is to develop our spiritual instincts. Through it, we are able to appreciate both the good and the bad of the events in our lives and appreciate how we are able to benefit from them.

  3. Without sounding like I’m quoting you, I see it as my true nature. Perhaps it is Gegu who has taught me this, but it’s soothing to see the truth. I’m not a peaceful warrior; I’m peaceful and a warrior. My mind is like a seismograph measuring unseen forces. There’s an active volcano off the coast where my father lives, and while it’s smoking there is nothing to worry about. When it’s not smoking you know something big is going to occur.

    • Simon,

      This is so deep and insightful. The storms are also an expression of our true nature for sure. I love the analogy of a seismograph and volcano. You’re right ~ there are some wonderful earthquakes happening in my life! This analogy is so apropos for me.

  4. I love the imagery you evoke about clear thinking. You are right, the more conscious and mindful we become the more we’re able to navigate dramas and sometimes not be impacted by them at all. I try to pull myself back from those emotional places more quickly. And I guess that’s gotten easier over time. I might not have the greatest reaction at the time, but I take it back or apologize much more quickly and easily than I used to. I also try to stay calm and look for solutions immediately vs. panicking. Very thoughtful post, Sandra.

    • Katie,

      You have a very smart perspective! I don’t always have the greatest reaction time either, but the fact that it’s becoming faster is a wonderful sign for all of us. Staying calm and centered really does help so much. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Hi Sandra .. you’re so right and I love the 14th C Spiritual Master Longchepa .. and his words .. so I’ll be looking him up .. while you’re words

    “You wouldn’t get angry at a rainbow. So why fret about thoughts and emotions?”

    So true .. thanks – Hilary

  6. Ding ding ding!

    Nailed it again, Sandra. VERY keen insights that I think will be helpful to meditators and non-meditators alike. Fantastic description of what meditation is really about- and what it’s not about. Also, I love the substitute for “karma” with “habits”- I think that helps keep the attention on one’s own behaviors. Speaking of which, did you catch the post, “the trouble with karma” over on Jonathan Field’s blog a week or two ago? Fantastic discussion in the comments on karma, covering Sufi, Buddhist, and Hindu perspectives. Very cool.

    Keep the love coming (or should I say “luv”?)!

  7. Travis, I love your pure energy and enthusiasm. Thanks for your positivity!

    I really took some liberty using the word “habits” because it’s not the equivalent of “karma.”

    In Buddhism, there are 4 obscurations that veil our true nature: karmic obscurations (negative actions), emotional obscurations (negative emotions), cognitive obscurations (dualistic thinking), and habitual obscurations (a very subtle form of cognitive obscuration). The fourth are habitual tendencies imprinted on the ground-of-all (which is not our true nature).

    That’s a bit technical but I just wanted to clarify that karma is our actions and their results and habitual tendencies are another aspect of our being. Most people are going to relate to the idea of habits far more than karma and that’s why I wove that theme into the article too.

    I’m going to definitely pop over to see the discussion you suggest! Thanks for the tip.

    • BTW Travis, I read Jonathan’s article. I really appreciate his reflections on the idea of karma and what it really means. There were many excellent comments. At the same time, there were several comments that gave incorrect information about karma. I don’t expect everyone to believe in karma by any means. But IMO it’s virtually impossible to have an intelligent discussion about it based on incorrect information!

  8. Hi Sandra,

    I agree that meditation is only part of the solution to calm the mind. In order to have a clear mind in all situations, we need to change our habits and the way we perceive things.

    I like your example of the rainbow and why it is pointless to get angry at it, but I also have my own version. I like to say that it is pointless to get upset at the heavy rain. When it rains, it can be a great inconvenience for us. But getting angry is useless. What we can do is to stay indoors until the rain passes or take an umbrella and brave the rain.
    To expand on this point, my mantra has always been to focus on the solution and not the problem. By focusing all my attention on finding a solution, I have no time to feel negative emotions. Even if I do, I simply brush them aside as they serve no purpose. Of course I did not acquire this approach overnight, but with practice it comes naturally nowadays and I hardly lose my cool in most situations even when I feel irritated.

    It also helps to read literature that shapes your thoughts and helps you to maintain your composure. I generally like to read books on war, especially from ancient China since I love the way they think. War may seem contrary to the idea of having a clear mind, but in truth it isn’t. In order to make the best decisions when thousands of lives are at stake, a commander needs to have clarity of mind. He cannot let anger, frustration, fear or impatience cloud his judgment.

    I feel that by reminding myself of life and death situations, I can strip away all emotions and feelings that serve little purpose. Also, it is easy to maintain your composure in a relaxed setting when we are in our comfort zones. But the true test of composure is to do so under great stress and extreme conditions. This is the reason I read about war even if I never hope to see one. Of course this is not the only type of literature I read, to balance it out, I also like to read Zen and the Tao Te Ching to foster my clarity of mind.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving aka the Vizier

    • Hello Irving aka the Vizier,

      These are wonderful and deep suggestions. I appreciate your understanding that negative emotions serve no useful purpose and the way you focus on solutions.

      I am particularly fascinated by how you have chosen to remind yourself of life and death situations in order to have the greatest clarity of purpose. This is quite remarkable. Reflecting on impermanence is one of the most beneficial of all meditations.

      You are right that the true test of composure is when we are under stress and extreme conditions. I would probably fail miserable, but I am continually working on improving.

      I like your choice of reading material. Though I’m not to keen on war stories myself, I understand your purpose for reading.

      I too hope you never see a war and wish that there would never be another throughout all of space and time.

      Thanks very much for your thoughts. I enjoyed reading them immensely.

    • Irving, nice to see you here and as Sandra says, these are really powerful and wonderful suggestions… Bring the big picture in mind always helps – that is what I use sometimes to alleviate my fear or nervousness…this will pass, it is not that big a deal, it won’t matter a week from now so why not brave it while we can…and the inner dialogue continues but it’s not easy.

  9. RichHartford

    Dear Sandra,

    Developing our spiritual instincts is the best way to attain peace in our lives. Constant meditation or prayer will allow us to do this. Through it, we are able to develop a better spiritual relationship with our creator or the universe (which ever you prefer). And most of all, it allows us to develop a stronger faith to be able to appreciate the events that happens in our lives whether good or bad and ultimately realize the blessings that they bring in us.

    Regards and more power.

    • Hi Rich,

      Very beautifully expressed. I couldn’t agree more although I can’t say that I’ve perfected constant meditation or prayer. This is my aspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It’s nice to “meet” you.

      • RichHartford

        Hello Sandra,

        I think that one cannot achieve perfection anything in this world overnight. That is what makes us human beings. But I do believe that as long as we do something daily including prayer or meditation,it becomes stronger and better everyday particularly our relationship with our Creator or the universe (which ever do you prefer). Most of all,patience is the key. Unfortunately, society has thought us to achieve everything in a hurry. It does not work that way. And that is especially true in our spiritual lives.

        Regards,
        Rich

        • Rich,

          Patience is indeed a remarkable virtue! I think humor and patience is a great combination. But as you point out, regularity is also a very important part of the equation. Thanks for the additional thoughts.

      • RichHartford

        Hello Sandra,

        In addition, it was nice to “meet” you as well.

        Regards,
        Rich

  10. Dear Sandra, what a gorgeous post. I am glad to know that you too experience the emotions of anger, frustration, fear and the like. I go in and out of my cycles with meditation. In fact sometimes I know that it helps me but I choose to stay in a frantic state of mind because on the surface, it seems so much more productive (yes it may be a bit counter-intuitive but so is the working of my mind, at times, I’m afraid :))!. Thank you for these priceless reminders!

    • Dear Farnoosh,

      I’m still on the path too and am far from perfect, that’s for sure! But I know there’s a path and I am walking along it with the best measure of good heart and mindfulness I can gather from within. We are all subject to stormy weather sometimes!

      It’s interesting what you said about a frantic state of mind. I’ve met some very relaxed people with are able to accomplish a lot in a short time by being very clear and focused, but also spacious and not frantic. Maybe your “frantic” state of mind has some of these qualities too.

      Thanks for your appreciation!

  11. If we focus on changing our habits, we tend to make shifts that our mind will not like at first. But as long as we are persistent and consistent. We can only win in the end. It just takes a good amount of will power and continuous action. For what old habit can defeat a consistency of new action steps in a right direction?

    Love your post Sandra. Your really good. I need you on my blog more often…( l o l)

    • You are so spot on, Jonathan! I’m definitely going to pop over to your blog to see if you wrote on one powerful word. I really appreciate the smart thinking on your blog.

  12. For a moment, I can see how ridiculous it is to hold on to anything at all.

    Don’t you just love those moments?

    This quote is the only one I’ll ever need. Ever! It’s an umbrella for all others. I’m laughing at the craziness of it all.

    When my mind is stormy I fail to speak and react until I can get “it” together.” I can always respond at a later time when my mind is clear. I don’t like drama. I like to surrender like Alex. When I surrender I get out of my own way. Nothing makes me happier.

    • Tess, That is a beautiful moment, isn’t it! You have the perfect approach to stormy moments. Surrender is beautiful and I applaud your ability to go there. It so reinforcing when we really get that this is what really makes us happy! Love your thoughts on this.

  13. My husband is an attorney, and for some reason is brilliant at separating his stressful work life, from his home life and his passion for writing scripts and making movies. I don’t know how he does it all without showing stress when he’s around me. He does not meditate, but for some reason, he can keep everything in its own compartment and focus on one thing at a time. I truly admire his skill. My stormy mind could use some of his focus.

  14. I don’t know how your husband does it either! That’s remarkable. I admire his skill too. We all have different paths and different lessons to learn. Mine is the stormy, emotional one too. I loved hearing about your husband.

  15. > I still get swept away, but I no longer drown
    That’s a beautiful way to see the ongoing game as we master what pushes our buttons.

    • J. D. ~ I like the way you look at life as a “game.” I too think the trick is to look at it lightly like a dream.

  16. Hi Sandra! When my mind gets stormy I like to evaluate my thinking. The discomfort is usually due to a belief or thought I’m holding on to regarding the situation I’m encountering. When I detached from that belief or thought (or debunk it), I return to peace. The mind is a wonderful thing when we don’t let it rule us. When we don’t get attach to our thoughts life is way smoother.
    Thanks for your beautiful words. Loving blessings!

    • Andrea,

      You are so spot on! This is precisely what I’ve discovered too. Sometimes easier said than done, but definitely the way to go. Thanks for sharing this precious wisdom.

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