One of my students recently said, “I’m so busy, I don’t have time to be quiet.”
What, I wondered, does time have to do with quiet? Time is a construct of thought, a made up measure. Quiet is a state, a deep feeling, not constricted within the boundaries of time.
“Well, I’m never quiet unless I have time to unwind,” she said. “I have no idea how to be quiet and busy at the same time. I’m not even sure I’d want to. I have so much to do I’m afraid I’d lose my motivation.”
“When you’re truly quiet, ‘busy’ doesn’t feel like the same ‘busy’ you experience when you’re not,” I said. “You can be quiet while accomplishing a lot, maybe a lot more than you’d expect, without the pressure of ‘busy’ occurring to you.”
“Isn’t quiet something you have to achieve by controlling or monitoring your thoughts,” she said, “not something you are?”
Ah, there it is, I realized. She believes she has to “un-think” her way into quiet, that she has to work at getting quiet. She sees quiet as a temporary respite, as if it were a special vacation spot, but you could only afford to travel there occasionally and you might need a guide. She is a positive thinker, not someone who realizes the serenely limitless power of understanding the very nature of thought. Thus far in my group, she hasn’t looked beyond trying to get a grip on the tangled web of her thinking to the actual point, the power of thought, the formless, spiritual energy that generates our experience of life. She’s still working with what she thinks, trying to do it better, or sort out the better thoughts from the not-so-helpful thoughts and talk herself into the more positive thoughts.
I realized that is a common pitfall of the way we go about looking for peace of mind. Instead of looking to quiet down no matter what, we postpone true quietude while we “figure it out”. We try to “deal with” the busy-ness in our heads and our lives. Quiet remains elusive and intermittent, but we feel like we’re doing better than we were because at least we have a way to get there from time to time. And artificial quiet certainly feels better than chaos. But it’s not the real thing.
Still, just knowing that quiet is available, even if uncommon, is a relief to people, and therefore a reason for some people to celebrate, and to stop looking beyond the improved landscape of their thinking to the formless energy that makes it possible. “I can get quiet, really I can, and I get a lot of great ideas when I do” is like a big STOP sign keeping people from “I can spend my life in a quiet state of mind and live at peace, no matter what.” The irony is, “getting quiet” is work. Living in a quiet state of mind is natural; it’s what we are effortlessly when we are so deeply aware of the nature of our psychological functioning that we are untroubled by the products of it.
So I tried to explain to my student that what she calls quiet, an activity or behavior that is more enjoyable than not quiet, is an improvement over life with no quiet in it at all. But it is just a better mousetrap, not a whole new way to banish the rodents.
Because understanding the nature of our psychological functioning is not an intellectual exercise, it seems “hard” to people who have long depended on their intellects to “learn” and “achieve” in life. The idea of wisdom, to them, seems like higher quality thought content, not a state of grace that informs all our thinking, regardless of the content.
People at peace, people who have experienced an insight about the way our psychological functioning works, have wisdom in the same way that a well-designed sailboat has a strong rudder. Their wisdom allows them to steer through all the days of their lives, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the complicated and the simple, with clarity, confidence and the best possible experience. It doesn’t matter to them if they are moving through a hurricane, or glass-like calm. The conditions are not the point; the capacity to navigate easily is the point. A peaceful state of mind is not the changeable, unpredictable ocean; it is the steady hand on the perfect rudder of our life as we move through it.
“Our intellect and our inner wisdom should work together to create harmony in our lives. However, if the intellect lacks wisdom, chaos reigns.” (Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p. 132.)