Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Discipline of a Stable Mind

"An Open Heart"
- in my meditation garden -

I am away from my desert home this week. We are here in Washington DC to meet our newborn grandson. This morning I had a conversation with my son and daughter-in-law about the joys and struggles of parenthood. As new first-time parents they have lots of questions,  and introducing a new baby into a household is always a stressful time. 

My conversation this morning also got me to thinking about anxiety. I would expect that new parents would experience some degree of stress, it goes with the territory. But I think stress is a condition that has become endemic in today's culture.  In fact, I put the word "stress" into a "Google" search engine and it came up with over 1 million results.

People today experience stress before a big exam, or when finances are tight or when the project is due at work, but they also experience stress when they are on vacation, taking a walk on the beach or sitting in church. Stress seems to be a byproduct of our fast-paced, overly ambitious, frenetic lifestyle. There is aways something to worry about - anxiety seems to be an ever-abiding companion of life in the 21st century.

Buddhists use the term "monkey mind" to describe anxiety, restlessness and being easily distracted. Like a monkey who can't ever sit still, quickly and chaotically jumping from place to place without ever stopping to take a pause, people who are constantly restless and anxious have a "monkey mind." It seems to me that "monkey-mind" may be a national epidemic nowadays.  

A "monkey mind" is aways filled with constant ideas- plots, plans and strategies about how to control each moment of everyday living. When you have a "monkey mind" emotions like fear, anger, doubt despair and obsessive attachment pull you chaotically from place to place without ever allowing you  time to stop and pause. A "monkey mind" is with you when you are at work and even on vacation or when you take a walk or sit in church.

Actually there is only one way to "tame the beast" of the "monkey mind" - you have to practice the discipline of "equanimity," learn how to foster and cultivate a "stable mind." 

The Benedictine nun,  Macrina Wiederkehr, provides this wonderful definition of the meaning of "equanimity:"

The dictionary will probably tell you that equanimity means
calm composure.
But there is a far better definition:
Equanimity is the stability of mind
that allows us to be present with an open heart
to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

It seems to me that this practice of equanimity may indeed be a necessary virtue for walking a spiritual path in today's high-strees and overly anxious culture. 

Life simply happens, each moment comes to us and "it is what it is." 

I practice the stability of mind when I can clear away all the clutter of all my ideas, my ambitions and strategies for controlling everything that comes my way.

I practice the discipline of equanimity when I allow myself to sit in the midst of the chaos of life with a heart that is open to whatever comes my way,  no matter how wonderful,  no matter how difficult. 

I practice the stability of mind when I realize that, for the most part, I can control very little if anything in life, I can only embrace it for what it is.  

I am reminded of something Jesus taught his disciples. Now more than ever his words seem to be filled  great wisdom:

So do not worry saying, 
'What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear?'
But seek first the Presence of God.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow. for tomorrow will worry about itself. 
Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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