This sounds weird, but being mindful is like standing at a distance from the mind as it thinks.
From a distance, thoughts appear as phenomena rather than our entire experience, how we normally experience them. They’re like an itch or the hum of the trash truck idling outside—just what’s happening right now. They come and go, with little rhyme or reason.
They aren’t necessarily the truth, and often aren’t. They’re reactions, judgments, preferences, memories, worries, etc.
Some of my thoughts sound like my mom’s voice. Others, like my dad’s. Others, like the voices of close friends. Others are based on stories I’ve heard, memories of TV shows I’ve seen, headlines I’ve read, etc.
The question, then—and this is what I’m grappling with recently—is, who is thinking these thoughts? More to the point: who am I when I’m not believing my thoughts—when I’m just watching them?
Who am I when I’m not looking forward to a cup of coffee? (I recently kicked a caffeine addiction.)
Who am I when I’m not drinking beer on a Friday night?
Who am I when I’m not headed somewhere else?
Who am I when I’m not judging my friends?
Who am I when I’m not judging my parents?
Who am I when I’m not trying to make people like me?
Who am I when I’m not a writer or meditation teacher?
Who am I when I’m not checking Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for notifications?
Who am I when I’m not holding on to the privilege of being a white, college-educated, heterosexual man?
Who am I when I’m listening to the cicada sounds at night?
Who am I when I’m sitting and enjoying the presence of my great aunt Marian?
Those are my questions—yours are different, but probably only a little.
I don’t need a solid answer. I know that I’m like everything and everyone else: always changing, conditional. I know that expecting solidity is what hurts.
But asking these questions better pay off because I’m banking on them leading somewhere. I can’t go back to knowing now. I’ve seen enough to know that not knowing is where life is.
This, from the twentieth-century poet Rainer Maria Rilke, gives me hope:
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
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