Where Is My Mind?

Where is my mind?

aka The Noble Failure

If you know me at all, you’re singing along to my favorite Pixie’s song right now. I jokingly call it my theme song…

Where is my mind?

But this is a serious consideration in yoga and meditation.

Where is my mind?

It never stays where I put it. It’s always wandering off. 

In Stephen Cope’s book The Wisdom of Yoga, he describes this phenomenon as the “Noble Failure.”

He describes teaching beginning meditators to focus their minds on their breath, following their inability to do so he says,

We’ve given awareness a very simple object - the breath. And such a simple directive: Stay!! Stay, Lassie, stay. Stay on the breath. But Lassie just keeps romping off to play in the woods.

I sometimes call this discovery “the Noble Failure.” It is certainly a failure - because we discover that the mind will simply not rest on the object. But it is also noble, because it gives us (perhaps for the first time) a vantage point from which to observe the nature of ordinary mind.

All early attempts at contemplative practice present us with this Noble Failure…

Where does the mind go? The past. The future. Our dreams. Our fantasies. Mind flits happily everywhere. But it cannot stay with the present moment.

That damn present moment.

Why is it so hard to stay here, now. It’s where we are after all.

Yet we spend most of our waking (and sleeping sometimes) moments trying to escape the present and go back to the past (like we could redo it!) or shuttle ourselves off to the future, or if you’re like me, spending it in la la land, daydreaming about things that don’t even matter.

So, we’ve established that we (I) suck at meditation or even staying focused on writing this blog post. What now? What do we (I) do about it?

Throw in the towel? 

Buckle down and try a little harder?

I’m going to make a different suggestion. This is the only thing that works for me (and by “works” I mean has the potential to help me be less squirrelish. I’m never going to be one of those folks who sits zazen for an hour with my legs crossed and doesn’t even seem to notice that fly crawling across my nose. I’m ok with that. All I’m looking for is to be able to sit still for 10 minutes or even better, stay in the moment I’m living in while I’m living in it, so I don’t have to go back and try to relive it once it’s in the past.). 

Physicality.

I need something to touch and to feel. 

Something like my feet on the floor.

Rolf Gates in Meditations From the Mat (the book that gets quoted around these parts way too often, but too bad, it’s not gonna stop!) says,

The asana give us a fairly gentle circumstance in which to train our minds to stay in the present. There is a lot to do - we have to breathe, we have to know what’s going on with our feet, our hips, our knees, our shoulders, our spines, our gaze, our effort, our effortlessness. When we are busy with all of this, it is usually immediately apparent when our minds wander off, and it does not take a great deal of self-control to bring them back to the matter at hand.

This is what I come back to when I start getting squirrely. I may not be able to keep control of my mind when I’m sitting still, but I can give my mind something to work out and on, something to notice, to look for, something that’s happening right now.

Try it.

Close your eyes. 

Take a deep breath.

Feel your feet on the floor. If you’re wearing shoes, feel your feet against the inside of your shoes. 

Find your big toe. Feel where it connects to the ball of your foot. Notice how it moves. Can you feel the toe beside it? Do they touch? What does that feel like?

If possible, press the bottoms of your feet against the ground, or anything solid. You can press the back of your heel against your chair leg. Be creative!

Feel the weight. Feel the contact. Ground yourself into that connection, that firmness.

Take another deep slow breath, still focusing on that connection. Breathe into it.

Now come back.

Did your mind wander during that little foray?

I’m going to issue a dual challenge for the coming week. 

First challenge: every time you notice your mind wandering, whether you’re at work, driving your car, having a conversation, trying to meditate - it doesn’t matter - any time your mind wanders, take your attention to the soles of your feet.

You don’t have to close your eyes, but take yourself through that quick scan and connection. See if that doesn’t bring you back into the present. You may notice that you feel calmer and clearer as well. The present will do that.

Second challenge: in at least one yoga practice this week, spend some time looking through your body. Noticing your limbs. Feeling out where they are in space, where they are in relation to each other, especially in the places where you can create that firm connection to something solid.

This is not about correcting poses. This is not about getting your limbs into the right place. I don’t actually give a shit about “right” posture or “correct” alignment. I want you to train your mind to see your body. To feel your body. Inside and out. Bones and skin and energy and ground. 

And when you notice your mind wandering in that yoga class? Bring your attention to your feet, then move up the body from there - where are your feet? where are your knees? your hips? your spine? your shoulders? your arms? your hands? your neck?

Let me repeat this again:

THIS IS NOT ABOUT GETTING ANYTHING RIGHT! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A CORRECT POSE. THERE IS ONLY MOVEMENT. MOVEMENT IS GOOD.

Sorry for the shouting, but it’s a big deal.

There is a time and a place for “correcting” posture, but that’s to either get you out of pain, or to create a specific action/experience that is not better than any other action/experience it just happens to be the one we’re working on today.

Is there an emoji for “beating a dead horse” or “get off your damn soapbox?”

For my part, I’m going to be sprinkling this idea throughout my classes this week.

I’ll also be attempting to bring it off the mat with me as well, in my conversations and activities, especially the ones where I have a tendency to wander off…

Let me know how you do.

What you find.

Does this work for you? Does it help?