“There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” –Shakespeare, Hamlet
Have you ever stopped whatever you were doing to simply observe your thoughts? Yes, to do nothing else but watch the nonstop activity of the mind without doing anything to fix or change what’s going on in there?
If you took that experience and multiplied it by 24 hours and then again by 14 days, that basically describes the exotic two-week “vacation” I took in Greece last year. For practiced meditators like my husband, it’s called a meditation retreat. Depending on the day you ask me, a relative newbie to these closed-eye marathons, it’s called being-with-a-mind-that-won’t-shut-up… or, just plain hell.
This is not your typical ascetic experience where you sit in a lotus position for hours on end. This retreat is the deluxe version held at a beautiful hotel with sweeping views of the Aegean. Every day is a feast of fabulous 70-degree weather, gourmet vegetarian dinners, fun-loving participants, inspiring teachers, soul-feeding lessons in human consciousness. Two whole weeks where I am given permission (instructed, actually) to take nothing seriously…
…and do absolutely nothing.
Heaven, you might say, except for the fact that I feel completely consumed by the orgy of thinking that is taking place in my mind. Watching the gluttony of self-importance churning in my head is exhausting, even nauseating sometimes. And my whole body hurts. The fact that I happen to be on one of the most beautiful places on the planet is lost on me.
So why do something in paradise that is so not pleasing? I ask myself this question countless times, while I thrash about like an addict in rehab, ready to bolt at any minute. The answer: “Week two.”
Disarming the monkey mind (ego) and unwinding from a lifetime of spinning “very important” thought-bulletins like “I need a cup of coffee…Caffeine is bad…My back hurts… I hate this…I love this… I signed up for this?! …Thirteen-and-a-half days to go… Everyone is ‘getting this’ but me…My back hurts … ” – takes time.
It’s not the thoughts themselves, I discover, but the constant chewing (identifying, personalizing, feeding, attaching to) them that is so tiring. When I stop chewing, the relief is instantaneous. Like the relief you feel in your mouth when you finally remember to spit out the tasteless wad of gum.
Though the mind has no concept of this (and never will) – and employs a spectacular array of stealth tactics to charm us back into our old habits – the alternative to a grasping way of life is pretty darn sweet. It’s the magic that happens when we choose ease. Or take nothing personally. Or surrender to that deep silent space within us that simply knows.
By the end of my second week of mindful non-doing, something begins to poke through the noise and clutter of my mind. Nothing fancy or earth shattering, really. No fireworks or big revelations.
What comes into focus is me.
Like those three-dimensional puzzles where the image pops in fully-formed when you soften your gaze: It’s the “me” that has been there all along. The me who hangs out in that timeless space where everything feels sparkly, uncomplicated, and clear.
Living in present time. Now that is paradise!
We’d love to hear from you!
- What are some of the ways you cultivate spacious detachment?
- What does it feel like to do absolutely nothing ¬– with complete awareness – for one minute?
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