“But the mind always wants more than it has—
one more bright day of sun, one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour to get the words right;
one more chance for the heart in hiding to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses—as if this quiet day/ with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.” – Mind Wanting More By Holly J. Hughes
Why does the mind always want more than it has? Why isn’t it ever satisfied? Is there an app for that? Where can I get it?
To try to answer these questions, I picked up the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Shunryu Suzuki writes, “The purpose of studying Buddhism is not to study Buddhism but to study ourselves. To have some deep feeling about Buddhism is not the point; we should just do what we should do, like eating supper and going to bed. This is Buddhism.”
On one hand, this quotation is wonderful in its simplicity. Eat supper, go to bed… I can do that! But it is so simple that it doesn’t really capture what is going on. Maybe that’s the point of Buddhist teachings. The wisdom lies in the practice itself. As the popular teaching goes, “Buddha was not a Buddhist.” My reality of awakening won’t necessarily be like your awakening, so it’s up to you to find your own way..
When I first started to study myself more than a decade ago, I encountered layers upon layers of deep thought patterning, what are called samskaras in Indic religious and philosophical traditions. I began to identify the forces that were governing my life, pulling me in a thousand directions. I wanted to be loved. I wanted fame. I wanted to be a good wife. I wanted to go out and party and flirt. I wanted to have meaning. I wanted a fun life. I liked this. I desired that. I hated this, etc. etc. etc. Accompanying these samskaras were chattering inner voices, an endlessly looping monkey mind.
I consulted my very first teacher, CEC founder Jeff Warren, and I said, “I thought by meditating that I would get more silence but the opposite has happened!” And he said, “Sit with your patterning some more but don’t get attached to what arises. Let it come and go, like the waves.”
So I sat. And after months and then years, I found that the samskaras started to get quieter. They weren’t so urgent. And when I was able to watch them without being pulled into their content and without dropping down their rabbit hole, they had less hold on me. When they had less hold on me, it was easier to know what to do. Noticing the transience of the samskara made the simple day-to-day reality more rich and available.
I realized that this conception of simplicity wasn’t just Buddhist, it was everywhere. It was an idea that was present in many of my mentors and healers, whatever their spirituality or religion. I could hear it in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Gift from the Sea. Or in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea. Also in other stuff that had nothing to do with the sea!
So we sit. And sometimes we hear the chattering. And sometimes we feel the waves. And sometimes we just witness the chaos, which has its own form, and there’s a type of simplicity in that too. And it’s all good. This month at CEC, in between our supper and bedtime, we’ll explore some simple practices and the practice of simplicity.
Alex is a creative-writing teacher, journalist and author. She writes on human rights and social justice issues, including the award-winning Up Ghost River and The Environment Equation. Having gotten lost too many times to count in her own mental chatter, she specializes in mindfulness techniques of focus and equanimity so that losing one’s way doesn’t happen as often, and doesn’t feel as bad. She enjoys discovering and sharing poems and books that are road maps to being fully present and alive.