"There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so."
"Don't get lost in your pain. Know that one day your pain will become your cure." -Rumi
Have you ever stopped what you were doing to simply watch what's going on in your head? Yes, to do nothing more than observe your thoughts without doing anything to fix or manage them?
That experience multiplied by twenty-four hours, and again by fourteen days, describes the retreat my husband and I did together as a special treat to ourselves. For practiced meditators like my husband, it is called a meditation retreat. For yours truly, a relative newbie to these longterm marathons in mindfulness, it would be more accurate to call the experience "being-with-a-mind-that-won't-shut-up," or, depending on the day you ask me, just plain hell.
This was not your typical ascetic experience where you sit like a pretzel for hours on end. Ours was a deluxe variation held at a beautiful resort in Greece with sweeping views of the Aegean. Every day was a feast of 70-degree weather, gourmet vegetarian dinners, fun-loving participants, inspiring teachers, soul-feeding lessons in human consciousness. Two whole weeks where we were given permission (instructed, actually) to do absolutely nothing ... and take nothing seriously.
Heaven, you might say, were it not for the all-consuming orgy of thinking spewing in my head: the gluttonous rehashing of self-importance, poor me, and nonstop woulda-coulda-shouldas -- all of which I found utterly exhausting, nauseating, and even physically painful. The fact that I happened to be on one of the most beautiful places on the planet was completely lost on me.
So why do something in paradise that is so not pleasing? I asked myself this question countless times, while I thrashed about like an addict in rehab, ready to bolt at any minute. The answer: "Week two."
Disarming the monkey (ego) mind and unwinding from "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.
And massive doses of compassionate self-care.
It's not the thoughts themselves, I would later discover, but the constant chewing (identifying, personalizing, feeding, attaching to) them that can be so tiresome. Stop the chewing and 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 began to poke through the noise and clutter of my mind. Nothing fancy or earth-shattering, really. No fireworks or big revelations.
What came into focus was 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!
Stephanie Bennett Vogt, MA, is the author of the award-winning Your Spacious Self and the founder of SpaceClear. Her online course Clear Your Home, Clear Your Life -- which teaches how to clear from the inside out -- became the #1 best-selling course on DailyOM in two days.