I discovered something cool this morning: I am becoming less of my mind’s bitch.
To use that word in the crude sense of abusive, almost slavish ownership. To get your attention.
Here’s how my days have gone when I didn’t have to get up for work (for a job I was fired from a month ago): My alarm (my phone) would go off, I’d get it and listen to the news on NPR briefly, then go downstairs and make a cup of tea (English-style, with half-and-half) and then come back to my room to read, perhaps write, and get on with the charade that was my life.
But if I got downstairs and, as I made my tea, found my mood to be dark, my thoughts unhappy, or whatever symptoms of depression were in charge of things that day, I was stuck. I had no escape unless something unexpected happened. (Something unexpected rarely happened). I could escape the feeling of that mood by distracting myself, but usually meant that whatever slim possibility of doing something useful that day was probably gone.
That’s what I mean by that unpleasant, sexist, attention-mongering phrase: I was my mind’s bitch. I was tied up and under its control as surely as a dog could be kenneled, whipped, muzzled, and unable to do anything more than roam a few square yards of barren backyard.
This morning, after not getting anything close to a good night’s sleep, I woke, listened to the news on NPR – Trump continuing to obstruct justice, Northern Pike destroying native salmon, Oregon Republicans doing all they can for their corporate masters – so when I got downstairs, my mood was not good. Sour, unhappy, frustrated, etc etc.
My fellow progressives know what I mean. This describes, I think, how many of us start our day unless we have kids, a partner, or flooded basement to distract us.
However, something remarkable happened this morning. Instead of being chained to that mood for the rest of the morning, perhaps the entire day, I put into practice what I’ve been learning about mindfulness – and it worked.
It fucking worked.
The dharma teaches us the most valuable thing we can ever know about our minds: The thoughts and emotions that fill our mind and which we seemingly are powerless against are not actual things, not like desk I’m sitting at or the tea I drank. Or even the brain sitting inside my skull.
(Although if I were a Zen Buddhist, I’d say they are all the same, they are all not-things. But I’m not a Zen Buddhist because life is hard enough to live without abandoning all pretense of knowable reality.)
I paused as the electric kettle slowly heated the water, and I reflected on what I’ve been learning and practicing through daily meditation. I told myself, These thoughts are just ephemeral moments my mind has created. These emotions are not things that will last; they are only a reflection of my mind’s current and very temporary mood.
I denied the permanence and reality of my dark thoughts and sour mood.
And in the next moment, just as I was warned could happen, a new thought arose. A new mood arose. Because of the work I’ve doing to develop mindfulness – to be awake and aware right now, right here – I could see that these thoughts and emotions were transitory, conditional, and, in the end, disposable.
They arose. Then something else arose. This is how we rescue ourselves from our own minds: We learn how our mind works, and we teach our mind to work in a more healthy way.
A year ago, I could not have done this. I was in bad shape then; I needed professional medical help. And although what I got wasn’t very good, I think it was enough. (Perhaps it was enough that I got any care.) By the time I got to the end of the year, I was in a slightly better place (for a variety of reasons, some of which are not replicable including the development of arthritis in my thumb that took me off work for four months). I had the space to begin to recover.
Learning to meditate mindfully began with just 5 minutes twice a day. At the same time, I was reading and learning more about mindfulness, the way the brain works (we know so much more now thanks to the brain science of the past 20-30 years), non-religious Buddhism (the dharma, secularized, which was how the Buddha actually taught it). Week by week, the meditations grew longer (last week was about half-an-hour, but this week is less than twenty minutes). The lessons, practice, and understanding from the previous week allow new learning the next week.
And this morning, hallelujah, for the first time, a depressive mood was thwarted by real honest-to-goodness mindfulness. I chose to see my thoughts and emotions for what they were – contextualized, embodied (sleepiness), transitory – and I refused to accept them as “mine”.
That’s all I had to do. The moment I saw and accepted the true reality of my thoughts and mood, they were gone. My mind had moved on. My mood didn’t change; I didn’t suddenly become giddy. I just didn’t have the darkness there. I was just myself. I was still tired; I still understood the world is a fucking mess; I still need to start exercising regularly. Nothing changed. I did not change.
I just stopped believing a lie, the lie that the thoughts and mood of this moment defined and controlled my life. Just like the bully you can supposedly stare down and drive away (as if), I took a brief, honest look at those thoughts and that mood – and they skeedattled. They belonged to the moment before, and I belonged to now.
I am no one’s bitch, not if I choose to remain in the present, awake and aware. And by gum, by neddy-jing, it felt just fricking amazing – another temporary emotion, but I’m in no hurry to tell it to move along. That’ll happen once I look at Facebook.