Often, I feel like a broken record. In these blogs, I feel as if I’m starting to repeat myself. For instance, I use the same metaphor all the time, but it’s the best way to say it, at least that I’ve found so far. When I change perspective, I see my thoughts as a river, rushing slightly above my head. If I am able to sink underneath them, in meditation or other quiet moments, then I sit in still awareness until a thought throws down a hook, and like a fish I rise to the surface and engage with the thought. Maybe it is of something that will come in the future, maybe something that has happened in the past. Whatever it is, when the hook comes down, I leave this present moment and speed down that river as if there is nothing below, no peace.
When I learned to see my thoughts this way, as a river, it was after a conversation with my wonderful mentor. That was Wednesday night. Thursday was the first day of a music weekend, so I rose early, ran around packing and making lists and triple-checking all the arrangements for the band, and I was in the river of thought completely.
I woke, drove, loaded in, played, loaded out, goofed around with the girls, probably laughed a bunch and got very little sleep and spoke with many marvelous people in party mode, or got to hang with friends I get to see once, maybe twice a year.
Then, Sunday, late morning. Stepping into the bright San Francisco street with the old man and the pug, heading to our favorite diner in Fisherman’s Wharf. Suddenly, I remembered my Wednesday night phone call, and I stepped out of the river rushing above me into quiet. My steps fell on bright white sidewalk, the cream and blue buildings reflected a shimmer in the air, and the blue sky dressed up in a mosaic of white cloud lace.
It was almost a physical sensation, this stepping out of the river of thought, as if was stepping out of water perfectly dry. For most of the walk, thoughts came in and blew through as I walked right in the center of the morning, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The poor old man.
For the last couple of weeks, with time alone, I have had plenty of opportunity to take a look at those hooks that pull me to react and respond to my thoughts. I realize that so many of them can be repetitive. Annoying. Kind of insulting. Who wants to hear that stuff all day?
The way I’ve been getting around this is to ask the same question whenever I find myself thus carried away.
I ask, Who is thinking this?
Someone cuts me off in traffic, doesn’t wait their turn. My blood shoots up, a curse falls out. I step back and ask myself. Who is getting angry?
Clementine, I answer. I see myself from a kind of distance. There she is, the ego, the personality, the emotions, the reactions. When I see myself this way, the strength of the thought or feeling almost immediately lessens. I see Clem in the car, moving it across town, see her getting all worked up over something she has no control over. She immediately seems a little ludicrous. It usually makes me laugh a little.
When I see her this way, I have compassion for her. I see how much negative baloney she has to listen to every day. I see how much of her time is spent in the future or in the past and never right here.
Who is feeling this annoyance?
In traffic, the only reason I’m ticked off is because I have a belief that when I drive, I should be able to dictate the terms. Based on my past conditioning, I believe there is a certain modicum of behavior that is polite, and there are selfish ways of being in the world that I judge offensive. I believe this judgment is truth.
Clementine believes that she drives well and to have to brake unexpectedly seems unfair. Clementine thinks she should arrive on time. Clementine thinks that there is a way of being in the world that enables each person to give up a tiny bit in order for others to succeed as well, and when this happens, life becomes more even and peaceful everyone. She reads this rude traffic behavior as testimony against this belief.
Okay. How about if she just lets go of all thought, judgment and belief, and just steps below into that still, neutral place underneath that mess of mind and emotion? Then, when traffic incidents happens, she doesn’t react to anything as if it’s personal, and she stays peaceful.
All day long, I ask, Who is thinking that thought? I fall into neutrality. This doesn’t mean that I don’t move through the day, that I don’t have fun and get work done and am creative and read and goof off. It just means that moments begin to flow. I ask, “Who is thinking that?” More and more with just the question, I immediately fall underneath the river into that peaceful place.
My heart widens. My love deepens. My compassion grows, and each moment is experienced fully. I’m not attached to wanting to keep things the same forever or for longing for them to be different. I’m just right here, right now. In the flow of the now. The gorgeous now that is just experience.
I was listening to The Duncan Trussel Family Hour, a new podcast obsession of mine. He referred to nature as being dark and brutal, bringing up the images of the shark attacking the seal, the lion taking down a gazelle. This common idea humanity has of nature being unyieldingly harsh and cruel.
His guest pointed out that a seal can live up to 30 years. Think of how seals spend their time. Lolling about on beaches, swimming with their friends, eating delicious fish, lying in the sun, mating. So for 29 years, life is made of moments mostly peaceful, lovely and loving. At the end, yeah, a direct hit from below turns you into chum, but that seems pretty quick and not the worst way to end in the grand scheme of things. Reminds me of that Grumpy Old Men line when a friend died of a heart attack or car accident in which they died instantly. “Lucky bastard,” the men would say.
If I don’t spend my whole life worried about the way it will end, or about what tomorrow will bring, or expecting things to be as they were or as I imagine they could be, if I sit right now and let go of expectation, judgment, emotion, and just Be, what is my life then? I’m right here, in the moment with nature or the people I am with or the experiences of my day and my heart is free to open up, compassionate with myself and with everyone else I encounter.
That person being a jerk in traffic: there are so many reasons for someone to behave thoughtlessly without meaning to, or for someone to get to a point where their heart is completely closed down and self-preservation is the only motive.
Either way, this is their karma to live. I let them in to the lane, and let it go. I arrive two seconds later than I would have, and yet arrive in peace. The river rushes above me, and I keep falling underneath. This has become my practice. Who is peaceful? There’s Clementine again, that goofy smile greeting the world.
You can hear me read this here: https://soundcloud.com/clemthegreat/the-dream-of-fish
or, on my iTunes podcast, which has all previous episodes as well, HERE.