Calming the mind is more easily said than done, but Sharon Salzberg suggests a way towards that goal in her new book Unplug: For an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend Guidebook.
Theologian Howard Thurman recommended that we “look at the world with quiet eyes.” It is an intriguing phrase. Usually we more resemble cartoon creatures whose eyes are popping out on springs: “I see something I want! Give it to me!” Then our arms extend, reaching out to acquire that object. Our fingers flex, ready to grab on to what we want in order to keep it from changing. Our shoulders strain to hold on even tighter. Our heads rigidly turn to this object so as not to lose sight of it. Our bodies lean forward in anticipation. It’s a moment of grasping–or an hour of grasping, or a day, or even a lifetime–and it’s very painful.
All too often we seek happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. We cling to people and experiences and objects as though we could glue them in place, while ignoring the precipice of change upon which we are standing.
When we practice looking at the world with quiet eyes, we develop a degree of calm and tranquility. The surprising discovery is that this quietness isn’t passivity or sluggishness; in fact, we can be fully connected to what is happening, and have a bright and clear awareness of it, yet be relaxed. This quality of calm isn’t deadened or coldly distant from our experience–it is vital and alive. We find that the world will come to fill us without our straining for it.
As we release that momentum toward clinging–no longer falling into the future, ignoring what is here as we obsess about what we don’t yet have, fixating on defeating change and insecurity–we calm our minds. Such calm is its own special type of happiness, one of composure and strength. In that alert yet relaxed state we find peace.
When the mind is at ease, serene, and happy, we can more easily and naturally concentrate. Rather than coming from grasping, calm and concentration come from being able to begin again. We look at the world with quiet eyes – even with our scattered and wandering minds, those long stretches of aimless fantasy even though we are trying to be present, and those regrettable interludes of caustic self–judgment even though we are trying to be more loving. Whatever distraction we notice, we practice letting go of it, and we begin again by reconnecting to our meditation object. We discover that, no matter what comes up in our experience and no matter how long it lasts, nothing is ruined or damaged irreparably. No matter what happens, we can view it with quiet eyes, and we can always begin again.