A quiet mind is not a blank mind. It’s words that crowd out consciousness. Endless chattering, internal arguments/justifications, song-loops, worrying – these keep us from being alive in the moment. And isn’t this the purpose of spiritual practice, to be more alive? Jesus said, “I come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
At one point in my life, I was working twelve-hour days and stressing about all the things that had to be done. So to take my mind off of work and to get some exercise at the same time, I started taking Tae Kwon Do lessons. I thought it would be a good way to get my kicks, which turned out to be true, but they were mostly to my head and abdomen. I did find out, though, that nothing focuses your mind like facing off with a fellow student on the sparring floor. It really captures one’s attention.
I have known many adventurous people in my life who did things like set world speed records on skis, raced motorcycles, climbed El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Today, we call them adrenaline junkies. Adrenaline can get you high, where “high” means an elevated state of consciousness. Once I slammed my motorcycle into the side of a car when it turned in front of me. I flew over its roof and landed in the street in the middle of traffic. My flying time seemed to last forever. Today, we know that adrenaline does that; it focuses the mind on the immediate present, making time “slow down.” People who go out of their way to live life on the edge do it to get high, to force the present moment, to live in the now. It’s cheating, in a way, but it works. It’s like looking for God at the end of your rope.
But those who are good at such things have all come to the conclusion that attention, while focused, must not be obsessive. By this I mean that every element in an extreme situation must be given equal attention. Race car drivers, for instance, cannot focus simply on going fast. They must integrate everything in their sensory awareness in such a way that changes in one part immediately trigger a response in all of the other parts. This is called integral awareness, and it leaves almost no time for thinking. In fact, thinking gets in the way. Intense activity forces integration, so trying to quiet your mind by “doing nothing” does not work. Stopping thought does not mean blanking your mind. The mind must be alive, intensely alive.
A guru once said that unless you are as eager as a man whose hair is on fire to jump into a pool of water, you cannot reach enlightenment. We cannot approach our meditation the same as a household chore. We have to come to it as though our life depended on it. The mind has to know that you are serious. Otherwise, it will only play along until it gets bored, which for most of us is about 1 1/2 seconds. Breaking through mundane awareness has to be as important as food is to one who is starving. If not, the cares of this world will eat you alive. In the end, you will wake up and wonder where on earth you have been.