Mindfulness & the Chaos of Voices

Even a little experience trying to cultivate what the Buddhists (and others) call “mindfulness” demonstrates one thing for certain: the mind is a chaos of voices. At least mine is. If the goal is to observe and ultimately come into some kind of harmony with the chaos of voices, that is a robustly active attitude that paradoxically emerges from what appears to be passivity; on the other hand, the Western materialist approach to the mind, which sees it as some kind of epiphenomenon of a biological system, is strangely passive, leaving one powerless over the voices because one has denied their existence as real things.

The Unofficial Hiatus / What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Hmmm. Seems like I haven’t been posting much during the recent dog days. We finally got some summer weather here after a couple of cool, wet months. I think if I looked back over my eight or nine years of blogging (who’s counting?), I would notice that I often take a short vacation from the blog about this time of year. It’s not really intentional, just a loss of motivation. And this year I’ve actually been occupied with a couple of projects and with making a couple of changes in the old “lifestyle” (hate that word). About a year ago I stopped drinking alcohol. I’d had a bad reaction to a sleep medication I had been prescribed and it seemed to be related to my evening beer consumption, so I stopped, without much difficulty. I also stopped the medication and ironically began sleeping better than I have in years. I did notice that I would have spikes of anxiety (that I would have in the past treated with a couple of drinks) and during those periods of anxiety I was given to repetitive, morbid thinking — I’ve been a secret hypochondriac since I was six years old, always imagining I have some fatal illness. About a month ago, though, I began meditation practice using the Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s little book The Miracle of Mindfulness as a guide. I’d tried  meditation before, but for some reason this time it took and I have sat for half an hour or more every day since I began. It took a while, but I have noticed pretty dramatic shifts in my thinking and my internal dialogue / monologue over the last week or so. I am calmer and happier. Nothing dramatic, just a bit lighter in the head. And speaking of a light head, I have had, over the years, mild to moderate vestibular / balance problems that seem to come and go, perhaps related to stress. Several years ago a physical therapist gave me a set of exercises to do in which I look at a target (a large letter B) on the wall while walking toward it and moving my head back and forth. At first the B jumps around and I see a double image, but after doing the exercise for ten minutes twice a day for a couple of days, the target stabilizes. There is also an exercise in which one walks while throwing a ball up and catching it, following it with one’s eyes. The idea is to retrain the brain / ears / eyes to track together. It works. After I came back from Vietnam early this summer and had a bad chest cold with fever, I noticed I wasn’t balancing as well as I had been, so I’ve been doing these exercises very aggressively for the last two weeks, with noted improvement. I have even taken up juggling, which I used to be able to do, but so far without much success. I’ll certainly post video when I can keep three balls in the air! Finally, on the theory that if you don’t use it you lose it, I have begun memorizing poems. When I was a kid, I did this easily, getting long swatches of Kipling, Edna Milay, and Coleridge by heart in my early teens, but I didn’t keep it up. Over the last couple of weeks, I have memorized Jack Spicer’s “Berkeley in time of Plague,” Blake’s “The Sick Rose” and Frost’s “Fire and Ice” (both brief, as warm ups), then I went on to Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me,” which I have always loved and Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” ditto. I’m now working on Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt,” which is harder for me to get into my head because of its antique syntax and the fact that I had never encountered it before. This is a practice, like meditation, I hope to keep up indefinitely.

So, I don’t often write about my personal life here in this public space, but I wanted to mark what amounts to a fairly large change in my way of being in the world. I’ll return soon to grousing about politics and making notes on literary matters.