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Trail Marker 3: Freeing Up

Jul 20, 2022 | Matthew Evans

Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Simpson

For Peace
As the fever of the day calms towards twilight
May all that is strained in us come to ease…
That those who enjoy the privilege of peace
Might not forget their tormented brothers and sisters…
John O’Donahue

Freeing up is about growing in inner and outer freedom. It involves opening to an  inner spaciousness whereby we slowly jettison much of the mental clutter and ‘excess baggage’ that we’ve been carrying through life.  It involves dropping our habitual overthinking and overanalyzing, that allows our inner peace to shine through.

How can we culture our hearts and minds to enjoy the peace, freedom and relaxation of this inner calm? This peace within is helped along by the assurance that as we let go of the mental clutter, there’s something more wonderful underneath the reactive mind. This is the quiet of the receptive mind.

Contemplative practice assists this decluttering process by gently weaning us off the drama of our  busy minds that are caught up in highly personal thinking and judgments. Attending to this inner peace, and holding our reactive thinking more lightly helps this inner peace show up more in our life.

Relaxing and letting go into the present moment more often helps to awaken our deeper, richer essence. Slowly we begin to feel more at home with our quieter, more reflective receptive mind.  As we experience these richer, deeper, calmer feelings we become more at ease trusting in the way life unfolds.

For many this ‘freeing –up’ involves a sense or presence of something larger than themselves  at work, helping them become more at ease in life. This increased sense of peacefulness often feels like gift. Contemplative practice helps us notice something that was always there but we were too ‘caught up’ and busy minded to notice. This seeing helps us to gently let go of those tight places in our bodies and minds.

This freeing up is not linear but generally involves oscillating between the poles of peace and disorder. A practice helps us find our bearings more easily when we’re thrown from order into disorder. It provides a reflective space to move from disorder to a new higher order. It helps us to attend to the deeper inner stillness that lies beneath the surface of our distress.

Imagine observing the ocean and only noticing the ferment of the waves. What are you missing?  The quiet stillness of the ocean’s depths. A practice  helps us to break this habit and to take a deep dive into the quieter depths of our psyche in order to be refreshed and to begin to live our lives with less reactivity and more grace and ease.

A client of mine, let’s call her Joan, came to see me for help with anxiety and found her own way of slowing down. She would pause intentionally a few times every day for a few minutes at a time to  get in touch with her breath and body and to detach from her racing mind. This simple practice helped her to slow down, and to notice and attend to the stillness under her harried thinking.

Joan was naturally drawn to prayer and found that her prayer became simpler. Slowly she began to rest for longer periods in this quieter ‘being’ mode of wordless prayer. Her longstanding habit of chronic stressful thinking began to drop away and be replaced by a more trusting, less reactive stance towards life. As she began to spend more time in these calmer feelings she began to grow more patient with herself and others.

Practice: Being in the present moment.

The practice for this Trail Marker is very open ended. It’s anything that helps you to slow down and to be more present in the moment. Martin Laird, in his book Ocean of Light writes that the growth of the Contemplative mind is moving from Reactive mind to the Receptive mind and eventually to Illuminative mind.

Some people struggle with this quietening down, as it is not about intellectualizing, that is getting it as a good idea or concept but awakening to an experience that is already happening. It is a being mode rather than an active mode, it involves unlearning our busy-minded ways.  We need to be patient with ourselves as we unlearn and move towards this new stance of resting more in ‘not knowing’.

What helps you move in this direction of a quieter mind?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Taking a walk for the sheer pleasure.
  • Playing with a pet.
  • Going fishing.
  • Swimming mindfully.
  • Watching a sunrise or the sunset.
  • Listening deeply to nature.
  • Reflecting on a poem.
  • Listening to music with rapt attention.
  • Softly gazing at something that draws and absorbs your attention.
  • Listening deeply to the mystery of another.

What practices help move you in this direction?