The water of a river moves in a current; there is a constant flow of material; sometimes the tide is high, rough and muddied, filled with debris, leaves, branches, other times it is lower, smooth and clear. So too the stream of content that moves through the mind; there are times when thoughts litter the mind, other times dark or agitated moods and, naturally, times of clarity and ease. What's of utmost importance is to not damn up the movement, to resist or grab at the material passing through. The mind should be kept spacious, deep and wide if it is to settle again.
Permitting the flow of mental events—plans, events, obligations, images, memories, sensations, feelings, external perceptions—is the role of mindfulness, which develops peace and ease. If awareness is allowed to narrow, contracting around and against the stream, the mind will flood, stress, anxiety, fear, expectations will build up and overwhelm us; we won't be able to contain all the demands that life places on us.
Waiting for a subway, trying to stay in the timetable of life, an announcement over the PA system that the trains are delayed. Disappointment, frustration, discomfort and worry arises. If the mind stays aware of other sensations, or skillful recollections of gratitude, kindness, virtue and compassion, these moods and feelings can arise and pass without great disturbance; everything can move. But what if we contract the mind around a story of what will happen if we're terribly late for an appointment, how it will throw off the rest of our day, and why did I chose the subway anyway, and when will they ever fix this subway line anyway? The mind becomes smaller and smaller; the pressure of thoughts and moods builds; too soon we are caught in a reactive spiral, physically tense, breath nearly hyperventilating, the shoulders and jaw locked tight, the mind jumping from one stressful prediction or observation to the next.
Hopefully we return awareness to the breath, inhaling deeply, extending the out breaths, relaxing the tension in the shoulders and jaw, grounding the feet on the subway platform, reflecting on times when we were peaceful. In this way we widen awareness, pulling the edges back from the clogged thoughts, filled with its pleas for life be other than it is, and we create space.
Whenever we find ourselves trapped in a collection of inner chatter that peace is not possible unless the outside world changes, we have fallen into heedlessness, for while the world could surely stand improvement serenity is unconditional; it doesn't require life going our way.
The world constantly promotes the idea that praise, approval, riches, smooth sailing and constant comfort are he building blocks of ease; we are are told what we require to be happy: “I'll need to earn this amount of money, so that i can buy a condo with nice furniture…” at which point i can relax. But wait! I'll also need a nose job, to lose 20 pounds, and find the perfect relationship… And as we plug away, trying to get the world to provide us with lasting ease and security, life slips by; the mind spends more time contracting and resisting the torrent of resentment and frustration that build with each little setback or larger disappointment.
But there's always the opportunity to stop, breath, pause, reconnect with all that is available. Widening. Deepening. Keeping the mind spacious. Allowing anything that needs to surge through to do so by giving it space. How would this change our experience if we practiced it in this very moment? Opening to what is present relieves that which seems overwhelming. So stand back, breath, widen and relax into life.