I shower every day and in this heat, often more than once. I brush my teeth morning and night. I do yoga to stretch and care for my body. I try to eat well (not always successfully) and I go to the dentist… less than I should.
Green juice anyone?
I do the dishes every day. I sweep, take out the trash, wash the clothes. I do these things because I have been taught to do them and I have been taught to do them because they keep my physical environment in good shape.
I make Tyrhone clean the pool though.
So why oh why, with all this maintenance of our physical environments and bodies are we not taught to also maintain our mental one? Why oh why are we not taking care of our minds; our beautiful, messy, dirty minds?
I attended a short Vipassana meditation retreat in Chiang Mai a few years ago and the monk who led the course basically said as much. We need to ‘clean’ our minds just as often, if not more, than our physical bodies.
And yet, most of us do not.
Whilst I have been heading in this direction for a while, I have only very recently been practicing the cleaning of my mind. And now that I have, I cannot imagine how I ever got on without it.
In fact I can imagine, and it wasn’t very well.
I have a very dirty mind, you see.
And whilst I am partial to a rude joke or two, what I really mean is that my mind gets messy and dirty like any other thing which is not cleaned out. Like a closet that we keep chucking clothes into, one on top of the other; never taking the time to organise or clear out but then expecting clean, laundered and wrinkle-free clothing from every day.
It is insane.
What’s even more insane is that we are afraid to tackle the cleaning of our minds. We are afraid to go in to the mess; to wade through the dust and dirt our minds have accumulated in fear that if we do, we might never come out.
I have a theory that this is because we have simply not been taught that cleaning our minds is a vital and necessary part of human existence. Eastern cultures have known about this for millennia, but in the west we think that we are above the menial task of cleaning our minds, and as a result we are suffering.
We are medicating with alcohol and drugs (prescription or otherwise) and we are feeling isolated and afraid. We suffer from anxiety, depression, rage and addiction, which occur when we are unable to process our thoughts and feelings with a clear and present mind.
I get it. The task seems so great. For most of us, including me, sitting still and attempting to present can be the most daunting thing we do in a day because it is so far outside of what we are used to.
I am often filled with great discomfort before and during my morning meditation practice. But that discomfort is only my mind rebelling from being cleaned, like a mud-covered kid who wants to roll in puddles and definitely does not want to take a bath.
We know the kid needs the bath. He’s filthy, and whilst he may be okay with being dirty now, eventually, he’s gonna start feeling not-so-good. So we put him in the bath. He squirms a bit, but before long he’s splashing around in that soapy water and playing with his rubber ducky.
Our minds, like that that kid, need the freaking bath. We may find it annoying, or uncomfortable, or boring, but as we grow up, we begin to enjoy the bath or at the very least enjoy the results of it (I, for one, think that taking a bath is one of life’s great pleasures).
There is much which is not yet understood about the mind and mental illness is one of the great plagues on humanity in the 21st century. I am not saying that it can all be cured with meditation, but I do hazard a guess that much of our mental discomfort such as stress, anxiety and depression stem from the fact that we have not been taught to care for our minds.
This needn’t be a spiritual pursuit if you are not that way inclined. Cleaning our minds needn’t be relegated to the yoga mat or the meditation hall or the Buddhist temple. You do not need to sit in the lotus position and you do not need to burn incense (although I like to do both of those things because it makes me feel more zen than I actually am).
You don’t need to ‘become’ anyone to do it and there is no qualification required except for being human. Or feline, because felines do this really well, I think.
A friend posted this great TED talk on facebook the other day (thanks Jodie).
The speaker talks about taking just 10 mindful minutes every day to be still and ‘rest in awareness.’
Our minds rarely get any rest. When we sleep they are dreaming, and when we wake they continue to dream all kinds of weird and whacky scenarios; projecting into the future, dragging up the past and worrying in the present.
They need rest, and only we can give that rest to our minds. The world is not going to give us permission to do it because the booze and drug companies would go broke and the economy would collapse due to the sharp decline in impulse shopping.
But I digress…
Imagine the changes in our lives and on our planet if we took the time to clean our beautiful, powerful, capable, amazing dirty minds! The part of ourselves we rely on for our very survival; the place our thoughts originate; the control center of our emotional and physical lives which drives our relationships, creativity and imagination.
In my own experience with meditation, the progress is slow and the results are varied. Which is why it can be tempting to give up. But the slither of awareness I gain in the space between my thoughts and the part of myself which perceives them keeps me showing up, in the hope that I may experience my present moment with more clarity than I currently am.
How, when or where you clean your mind it is not as important as actually doing it, and while it may feel strange or uncomfortable at first, you will soon wonder why the hell you weren’t taught to do it before.