“We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds.” -Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
One of the central tenets of Buddhism is an emphasis on being present to our experiences in the here and now. The problem though is that .we’re almost always somewhere else. We’re either reprocessing the past or worrying about the future. If we watch our mind, it doesn’t actually think many original thoughts. We just keep thinking in the same problematic ways that our minds love to operate. Some call this “the monkey mind.” All spiritual teaching is about showing us how to be present to the moment. When we’re present, we experience “the presence” and in so doing, we can tame the monkey mind.
Pema Chodron writes in her excellent book “When Things Fall Apart” about Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk and international teacher. Following in the ancient tradition of wandering ascetics, Rinpoche left his post as abbott of the monastery to spend several years on a retreat journey. Below is part of the letter he left for his students before departing:
In parting, I would like to give you one small piece of advice to keep in your heart. You may have heard me say this before, but it is the key point of the entire path, so it bears repeating: All that we are looking for in life—all the happiness, contentment, and peace of mind—is right here in the present moment. Our very own awareness is itself fundamentally pure and good. The only problem is that we get so caught up in the ups and downs of life that we don’t take the time to pause and notice what we already have.
Don’t forget to make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature, to see the purity of your being and let its innate qualities of love, compassion, and wisdom naturally emerge. Nurture this recognition as you would a small seedling. Allow it to grow and flourish. . . .
Keep this teaching at the heart of your practice. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, pause from time to time and relax your mind. You don’t have to change anything about your experience. You can let thoughts and feelings come and go freely, and leave your senses wide open. Make friends with your experience and see if you can notice the spacious awareness that is with you all the time. Everything you ever wanted is right here in this present moment of awareness.