‘The still point of the turning world.’ ‘Mankind cannot bear very much reality.’
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
These were the two quotes that kept floating unbidden to my mind at my first mediation class. It was a cold Sunday morning in February and I was sat cross-legged on a cushion in a small, white walled, intimate room with several strangers. I was looking up at our teacher, a doctor in two very different languages and cultures with one foot in the East and another in the West.
She was writing on a white post-it note with a black marker pen.
‘This is the Chinese word Chan – there is no direct translation in English,’ she said. ‘Meditation is part of it, it’s about learning to control the wild wolf our heads and understanding that our thoughts are an illusion and shape our reality.’
I took no notes. This was all written from memory later in the afternoon. I am a copious note taker so to write something up without referring back to hastily- scrawled notes is a strange experience. There is nothing to fall back on other than my fallible memory, busily constructing what may or may not have happened earlier in the day…
Our teacher told us to be completely present in the moment. ‘Accept the past is gone forever and can never be changed and there is no point fretting over what might or might not happen in the future.’
So the future is unwritten. The future is what we can have an impact upon. But first we need to learn to control our minds– the ‘wild wolf’ that lurks in our subconscious and drags us down unseen, twisting avenues.
A spoon passed over the front of a white cup. A shadow fell on its glossy white surface.
‘Here under the shadow is where other people’s behaviour can have a negative impact upon you. Here is where you store all the hurt and the anger deep inside. Maybe somebody shouted at you earlier in the day. Maybe you didn’t react then but later on you snapped at your family for no reason. But the ‘tranquil mind’ has no shadow falling on its glossy white surface. You have controlled your inner self and so external pressures falling upon you can have no impact.’
But surely I thought, for positive change to happen, people have to get emotional and worked up? Or how can societies evolve? If everybody walked around in a state of Zen-like acceptance, what kind of world would we end up with? How can we all deny external events? Maybe these are questions for next time…
‘Remember,’she continued, ‘your thoughts create your reality. But your thoughts are an illusion – they are transitory, they are the flashes of light on a pond, they are moments vanished instantly into the past where they can never be repeated.’
She told us that the mind is a mischievous monkey that doesn’t want to be tamed. The mind flits restlessly from one thing to another.
Our eyes were closed, our right hands sitting cupped inside our left, thumbs touching so the energy could circulate around our bodies. Slow breaths in, slow breaths out.
It was time to take the first three steps.
- Centre – With your eyes closed, focus on an internal spot. Or eyes open on a candle, or on the patterns water makes. The important thing is to find your still focus.
- Constant – Keep your attention at this spot. Breathe in and breathe out slowly. Count your breaths if that helps – but only go up to 10 and then return back to 1.
- Control – If you find your attention wandering, bring it back to the centre and keep it constant. There is no harm in your attention wandering as long as you bring it straight back to your chosen central point.
‘You should aim for 3 minutes a day for the first week. By the second week, try to build up to 5 minutes a day, ‘ our teacher told us.
So, time will tell if our internal mind monkeys have begun to be tamed, whether we can all begin to find our still points in this constantly turning world.