A few weeks ago Laurie wanted to attend a Quakers meeting and asked me if I'd like to come along. I did, having been interested in the Quakers for a long time but never having attended one of their meetings - I am curious if nothing else, and that was a good enough reason for me. Plus I suspected I might get a lot out of it. And also, the meeting house is an hour away when you hit all the green lights (in Roanoke, Virginia to be specific) and I work most Sundays, so there was no telling when I might ever make it back there. So off we went.
I left half-an-hour early in case there were traffic issues, of which there were none, meaning we had a half-hour to walk up and down the street the meeting house was on - a street filled with brightly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. I hadn't thought to bring a camera but my cell phone was good enough to take a couple dozen pictures. I went to the meeting in a good, calm frame of mind. That doesn't mean my mind was quiet. But then, it rarely is.
For those who don't know, Quaker meetings don't follow the traditional pattern of Christian services. There is no sermon, no singing, no passing of the tithe plate. There is, however, a great deal of silence. The people who speak are the ones who are motivated to stand and speak - which can be anyone attending. During the hour Laurie and I were there, three people spoke, lasting a total of about five minutes. The rest was quiet, leaving people to their own thoughts, or meditation, or listening for the still small voice of God, or simply trying to clear their mind. And that was the time in which I discovered that silencing my mind is a lot harder than I thought.
This isn't the first time I've discovered this, by any means. I've always been a daydreamer, or had things running through my head, however you want to look at it. In school as a kid (and sometimes older), in church (ditto), taking walks, even when reading or watching TV. Something
is always going on in my brain; as often as not it's a story idea. During times when I was supposed to be meditating, or doing yoga, I didn't have much luck clamping down on my mental livestreaming. Within the first two or three minutes of silence among the Quakers, my brain was automatically playing out the next two chapters of No Word in Death's Favor
This time I thought I would be prepared. I was going to be in a good, calm, relaxing place. So how could I not keep my brain silent for that little while? But what I didn't realize until I got there was that running like a river under the silence was a palpable intensity of feeling and emotion. I might as well have been in a church where the sermonizing was powerful and the music loud, and all of it right in front of me. I certainly wasn't going to have any luck keeping my mind quiet. But at that point I decided this really wasn't necessary.
At least not at that moment. Sooner or later there is likely going to come a time where I just need to stop thinking
, even if it's only so I can get to sleep. But being at the Quaker meeting made me decide that it's not shushing my brain that's needful. The energy is going to be there; I should just put it to good use as long as it's going to insist on running around like a wet toddler escaping the bathtub anyway.
It seems to me that the problem has been that I'm trying to tone down my thoughts or eliminate the thinking entirely. That plainly hasn't worked. Instead, what seems to work better is when I ramp up whatever is going through my head. This sounds counter-intuitive, but so far I've had some success with it. What I have to do is be a lot more selective about what I'm ramping up - or understand that I'll just let this thought have reign for a little
while. If a thought is distracting me or it's depressive, not anything I really want to be dealing with, I let it get itself out for a few moments and then I pull a bait-and-switch on it. I wish I could be less vague but I'm still figuring out exactly how the process works. All I can do at the moment is liken it to telling it, "All right, you've done your screaming. Now let's move on to something else."
This doesn't always work, of course. Some thoughts - especially the depressive ones - are incredibly tenacious no matter what I've tried. Those I usually have to ride out - or I find something else to distract myself with. But as I go I'm starting to catalog things to switch over that I already know have power enough to get me concentrating on them instead. Even if I can't knock down a thought process I don't want, I can dilute it.
I'm still working on the complete silence part. The farthest along I've gotten there is muted background thoughts accompanied by quiet music.
In the meantime, and since I haven't done this for awhile, here's a Progress Report on something that's been claiming a lot of my brain time lately.( PROGRESS REPORT FOR 9/30/14 )