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Monastic Strategies: My Mind Carries Me Away

Monastic Strategies: My Mind Carries Me Away October 5, 2021

Monastic Strategies: My Mind Carries Me Away

My Mind Carries Me Away

There are times when my contemplative practices welcome me into the embrace of spiritual life. They show me how to escape the constraints I place on myself and discover who I am in a deeper way. It is a taste of spiritual ecstasy. Then, at other times, my mind carries me away.

My mind is what usually draws me away. I am not usually distracted by following my heart, though it happens on occasion.

For as long as I can remember, it has been my mind which carries me away.

I have a strong imagination. It is my mind tempting me to come out and play. As a child, I could pretend and live in my imagination for hours. There are times when I imagine great, happy things, and other times when I immerse myself in a good worst case scenario.

My imagination is coupled with an ability to analyze and organize and solve problems. The intellectual aspects of my mind fit together well. My imagination shows me what could be possible, and my analysis helps me see how to make it happen.

The gifts which help me enjoy and understand can distract me from contemplative practices.

I spend much of my time living in my mind. It is more comfortable for me than the minefield of emotions and feelings in my heart. I have often been encouraged to use my mind to sort things out, to understand, but rarely to explore or express my feelings. That has changed for me more recently, though I am still more at home with thinking than with feeling.

Where do you feel more comfortable, more at home? Which parts of yourself have you been more encouraged to put into practice?

How do the various aspects of your life fit together?

Spiritual Life and My Mind

From an early age, for me, spiritual life was more about my mind than anything else.

I grew up in a spiritual community which valued learning and thinking and understanding. While some of those values may have emphasized simplistic answers, I learned them and weighed them. My childhood included lots of memorizing and analytical reading. There was a little room for my imagination, though I tried to take as much advantage of it as I could.

When I look back now, I am grateful. I may not hold the same answers I did then, or even ask the same questions. It was not a lot of fun to think so hard or memorize such long passages, but I am grateful to have those skills now.

The story of my life, and of my spiritual journey, is a long exploration. It has transformed my mind again and again. Who knows what might happen next?

It is as if I struggle to move forward, clearing a path in the wilderness, until I realize where I am. I spend some time there, and eventually begin to work my way forward again.

Slowly, over time, my mind uncovers and grapples with intuition, and feelings, and other unexplored aspects of who I am.

Each step leads me into new insights. I begin to appreciate there are more pieces than I thought there were, and how they work together.

Gradually contemplative practices help me understand spiritual life is not limited to my understanding.

My mind can be a valuable and helpful tool, but it is not the only one I have. Like someone practicing a craft or a sport or a musical instrument, my mind becomes more effective as I learn how to use it.

There is more to spiritual life than thinking.

Recognizing How My Mind Can Help

It is important for me to make sure all the various parts of me have opportunities to work together.

When someone asks me how I feel about something, I often tell them I need to think about it. I want to make sure my mind does not get ahead of itself.

One of the ways my mind has learned to help more recently is taking time for contemplation. A regular practice of sitting and listening to sacred stillness helps my mind work better.

I also believe exploring the various ways my mind works helps me. Putting imagination and intuition and emotion together with analysis is a real adventure. Each aspect of my mind helps me experience the world, and myself, in unexplored ways.

My mind tends to work overtime. It can be a challenge to slow down for rest and relaxation.

One of the ways my mind can help is by reminding me I have time.

There is time to do what we need to do. The challenge for us is to decide our priorities and incorporate our desires. We are not at the mercy of our schedules.

Clearing My Mind for Spiritual Life

Spiritual life is not about filling our heads with verses, or facts, or figures.

Each of us needs to make room for the fresh insights and ideas of spiritual life. Some of us have rooms filled with things we have not used in years and years. It is time for us to recycle or toss or donate some of our stuff and make room for something new.

Others of us might need to apply our imagination, our intuition, or our insights to what we have stored up there. Are we holding onto things we no longer believe? Our minds can help us clear some space.

For me, contemplative practices help me clear my mind for spiritual life. Praying beyond thoughts, words, and feelings opens me to a calmness and quiet which often eludes me. Listening to sacred stillness reminds me spiritual life is in the world all around me and within me, waiting for me.

I experience these practices as opportunities to take time to pay attention.

We learn how to be open and listen to spiritual life.

How can I clear my mind for spiritual life today?

What will I do when my mind carries me away this week?

[Image by Banalities]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.


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