The most powerful form of prayer, and the one which can gain almost all things and which is the worthiest work of all, is that which flows from a free mind. The freer the mind is, the more powerful and worthy; the more useful, praiseworthy and perfect prayer and work become. A free mind can achieve all things. Conversations With Meister Eckhart Meister Eckhart, Simon Parke
What does the Meister mean by a free mind? Single-minded, focused on God, no distractions? Yes, but he also talks about ichgebundenheit, a state of mind in which we are bound to the drama of the ego, so a free mind would be a mind unchained to ego. Eckhart also says,” I pray God that he may quit me of God,” so it means a mind free of false images of God.
A free mind is an empty mind, detached from all that enters, even from sacred moments gifted in contemplation.
For me it means that for just a moment I stop clinging to that which clamors for my attention. A common little drama which plays out in my everyday life is the distraction of noise. I live in a spralling apartment complex where maintenance needs generate constant loud noise. Tuesdays at 7:00 the city garbage trucks subject us to 20 minutes of an automated machine emptying one can after another. Wednesdays bring a grounds maintenance crew wielding their monstrous lawn blowers. The list goes on, but we musn’t. Most often the noise closes in on me taking over all of my attention. I rant and rave and denounce “progress,” as environmental injustice until I have allowed the noise to become me and there is no space for the divine. My mind is not free. Buddhists have an excellent way to free the mind. They would tell me to see the garbage trucks as a mindfulness bell calling me to meditation. My practice has become a variation on that advice. In this practice substitute “garbage trucks” with whatever threatens to take over your being.
Spiritual Practice: Freeing The Mind
The distraction presents itself, threatening to take over thoughts and feelings.
Acknowledge it’s presence saying, for example, “Garbage Trucks.” Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings.
Establish a rhythm to your breathing saying, “Breathing in I acknowledge this noise and it’s hold on me, breathing out I release it.”
Breathing the intention will eventually create a space for the divine to enter. Say, “Breathing in God is here. Breathing out, I am peace.”
When you feel yourself resting in God’s presence continue breathing and wait for the Spirit’s prompting.
This photo shows the view I have from my camping chair under the trees at my sprawling urban apartment complex. The houses and the boats and the docks are removed. I only wish I could remove the noise that accompanies them. It was quite hot in my corner of the world the other day, so I went down to my sanctuary to read in the shade. My peace was interjected with loud voices and a radio at the nearby swimming pool, and the blast of city machinery doing maintainance on the trail next to us. Traffic on the congested arterial on the other side provided percussion for this orchestra of pollution. Given all the variables in my life, this is the best place for me to live, so I must learn to cope. I take myself away to the beach at off times of day, and that helps immensely. This early this morning before the noise ensued I heard birds and bullfrogs. Delightful. This is not enough, however. I have to make peace with this situation, so I returned to the mindfulness teaching of Thicht Naht Hanh. In response to a question about dealing with stress at work, he said this:
“…when you hear the telephone ringing you can consider it to be the sound of the mindfulness bell. You practice telephone meditation. Every time you hear the telephone ringing you stay exactly where you are (laughter). You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen-this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you stand up and you go to the telephone with dignity (laughter). That means in the style of walking meditation (laughter). You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.” Thicht Nhat Hanh www.ic.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/dailylife/thayq-a.html
So, I will try using the sound of the leaf blower as the bell of mindfulness. Hopefully my faithfulness to the practice will replace impatience and frustration. You may find the embedded video helpful. Sister Dang Nhiem from Deer Park Monastery. I close with her “Poem for Inviting the Bell.”
My body, speech and mind in perfect oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearer awaken from forgetfulness and transcend all anxiety.
If you want to develop a conscious way of living, this little mantra may become a helpful tool for you, as it has been for me. It emerged when I was still working and dealing with the frantic pace of the job. When I feel caught up in activity or verbal clutter I say the mantra and enact it. By making this a consistent practice we can stop the intense break-neck speed of modern life. A slower pace carves out a spare room in our souls where we wait for the Spirit to enter and work in and through us. Practice and time develop the courage to open our minds and hearts to positive and new possibilities.