I was walking through my living room one day about eight years ago and I suddenly noticed that my mind was still. That was all. I noticed. This was not a small thing: my mind had never been quiet before. Even in my sleep there always seemed to be dreams and, during a greater part of my life, nightmares. But there I was, standing in the middle of the living room experiencing this new state, the strange peaceful spaciousness of the quiet mind.
The endless chatter had ceased, the constant narration had ended, the stream of comments, judgments, opinions and criticisms had dried up and left only the glistening sands of silence. The ‘mad woman in the attic’ had gone to sleep. Mind at rest: presence, being. And it was just a noticing, nothing else. Peace.
I had been working with my mind ever since it promised to drive me crazy if I didn’t do something. Actually, it had gone crazy when I was barely twenty five; then it was called a “nervous breakdown” and had me on the proverbial Freudian couch six days a week because my shrink didn’t work on Sundays. I did the whole scene: regression, hallucinations, irrational fears, sexual hangups. I dragged up every dirty dish cloth I could find in my childhood kitchen; I cried, ranted, swore, swallowed and eventually accepted and forgave. In the meantime, my fascination with mind itself grew. I read everything I could lay my hands on from Freud on down and as the only living laboratory happened to be in my own head, I went for it.
Freud did me well for a starter and actually for quite a while. I pulled my marriage out of the dumps, trundled my children off to school and enrolled in the University to finish my career in literature (psychology was just a doorway to writing novels and short stories). By the time I left psychoanalysis I had my childhood, youth and young adulthood all tied up in a nice bundle and I figured I was on my way to happiness. Everything from there on in should be smooth sailing; after all, I had learned the lesson, paid the price and –according to what I read- gotten rid of all my ghosts.
However, the mind, my mind to be more specific was not as simple as I had thought at first, or perhaps I should say that it was much simpler than I believed, and I –with the help of Freud and company- had complicated things. Truth be told: as fast as I tied up the stories of the past my mind delved into creating more and more for the present and the future. I didn’t understand. Speak of confusion; I had a number one case of it. I had done all my childhood work, I had cried myself silly, raged until my stomach hurt, cursed and sworn more than any seaman and yet… I wasn’t happy. Nothing was right. My marriage wasn’t what I thought it should be, I wasn’t what I thought I should be, publishing books didn’t feel like what I believed it should, having children did not measure up to anything I had read or heard and I still wasn’t happy being a woman. If I had been making the umpteenth bed or washing the eleventh million dish I could have understood that, but I had maids to do it while I wrote books, gave conferences and supposedly enjoyed my family; so what was wrong? I was now a published writer and presenting my books not only in Mexico, but also in translation in the United States. Exactly what I had dreamed of for so long; but I wasn’t happy. As a matter of fact, I had no idea what “happy” looked like.
Something was wrong and it had to be me or, as I put it then, my mind. I was not right in my head: it needed fixing so off I went to a new psychotherapist. By this time I had gotten over several addictions and divorced my husband; my children were married and I could begin a new life as long as I could get my “head” in order. So I did four more years, this time of psychotherapy, I read another mountain of books (mostly self-help and new psychology), I filled notebooks with thoughts, dreams and observations, I analyzed every emotion that moved me looking for the roots hidden in past “traumas” and by the time I now believed I had everything under control, I had gone through a second relationship of eight years and moved to Spain. And yet… I was not happy and I had no idea what was wrong.
Have you ever sat with yourself and asked over and over, “What in the hell is wrong with me”? Good lord I knew enough about psychotherapy, about the workings of the mind according to Freud, to Jung and to all the ones that had come after to have figured out how this thing worked by that time, and I hadn’t. I kept going back to my childhood to see if I had missed something, to see where that unsuspected trauma that was keeping me on misery lane lay, wondering if maybe there was a case of sexual abuse so dark and daunting as to never rise up out of the subconscious and see the light and be solved. By that time I was not writing anything but ramblings in my notebooks which by then summed up the incredible number of one hundred and eighty six in every imaginable color, size and style. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a life: at the time I was deep into work with Twelve Step Groups, I counseled women and chaired reunions where they learned to express themselves and supposedly solve the problems of their minds. I spoke of inner peace and fulfillment but I didn’t really have it myself. What I did have was a mind so busy looking for just that, that it had little time for anything else. So my life looked pretty complete.
At that time I was delving deeper into Jung, I had discovered Deepak Chopra, and I was trying some meditation and yoga. I also had gone to do several Family Constellations and found them fascinating although in my case they revealed nothing specially new if I don’t count the suspicion of a possibly incestuous relationship between my father and the sister right after him who died at age twenty-four and probably left him with at least part of the backload of guilt he seemed to carry all his life. But the friend who offered the Family Constellations one day sent me an internet announcement of a weekend with someone called Byron Katie. I read the spread and sneered: What in the world could a New-Age Californian Woman possibly show me with all I had read and worked? But my friend insisted and I ended up sending for the book: Loving What Is.
To my great surprise, the book had such an impact on me that instead of signing up for the weekend in Amsterdam, I booked myself a place in the nine day “School” to take place that August in Brussels. By the time I went to the School, I had convinced myself that I really wasn’t going to learn anything new, but I could have a good time. So, I spent the first three and a half days at the School sitting back, proving that my mind was right and that I was not going to learn anything new. But on the fourth day, something suddenly shifted. I can’t even remember what was being said or how it happened but it was like one moment I was sitting back feeling smug and the next I was weeping and raising my hand asking to speak in front of the almost 200 people filling the room. When Katie (as everyone calls her) pointed to me and I was passed a floor microphone, there were tears streaming down my face and I found it hard to speak.
“I have spent the last few days” I finally managed to squeak out, “thinking that everything you spoke about I already knew, and suddenly it hit me: this is something totally different, I can’t even begin to know what it is about: I am so sorry, I have missed so much…” I stopped and looked up at Katie who sat in front of the ballroom on a raised platform so we all could see her. She was smiling.
“There is nothing more painful than the mind that knows” she said simply. “Thank you for listening.”
The following days at The School and the months that came after them must have been, for me, what Katie calls “the great undoing” because it was then that my mind suddenly grew quiet. I had completely stopped trying to make it quiet; I had stopped also asking it for solutions. I understood finally that the mind does not have the solutions: it can’t. As I worked through the incredible stories that the mind had constructed with the help of so much therapy, as I questioned, kindly, thought after thought I came to experience the truth in what I had heard: the only suffering possible in the world comes from believing a thought.
When I no longer believe my thoughts, when my stories become just that: stories, then my mind is the most marvelous gift I can ever imagine. It is my time travel machine, it is my movie projector, it is my life maker, but I no longer experience life through the filter of my thoughts and my present is just that: a gift received over and over and over at each instant.
I know that there are still many deeply engrained beliefs lying below the surface of consciousness that do not allow total freedom, and perhaps as I continue working with myself and others I will expand more and more, but for the moment I am content with what is: Life on Life’s terms, only a thought would tell me this is not happiness.