What To Do With The Mind?
©2017 by Alice Walker
I have not been this depressed since President John Kennedy was assassinated; no, I have not been this depressed since Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. No, I haven’t been this depressed since Malcolm X was assassinated. No, I haven’t been this depressed since Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. No, I haven’t been this depressed since I realized that when they assassinated Che Guevara they cut off his hands, and he was a doctor. How long is this list! And, reading it, so many other names might be added. So many disasters too, crimes against people and Earth so heinous they are unfathomable to the average mind.
So what to do with the mind that is overwhelmed by grief and disbelief?
While writing my early novels and raising my daughter, and after a truly heartbreaking divorce, I discovered meditation. It not only saved my sanity, such as it was at the time, it saved my life. I meditated regularly for years. Then my practice of formal sitting fell into disuse. Became spotty. An afterthought. In fact, I used to think I’d meditated so much already I didn’t need to keep it up. What a mistake this was!
Which is to say, through this present period of basic cruelty and relentless suffering, I have had to reach back to bring my practice of meditation forward. And I have the Dalai Lama to thank for reminding me how precious it is.
I was given The Little Book of Inner Peace* by someone who loves me. Someone who saw I was suffering, as we all might, from a period of serious global disenchantment brought on by human malevolence and greed. But what I got from reading the book was something I hadn’t expected; a casual revelation of how many times a day the Dalai Lama meditates.
Five or six times.
I had thought twenty minutes twice a day was sufficient, in the early years, because that was what I could squeeze for myself between raising a child and making a living. Then, when I had more time I meditated for half an hour to an hour, twice a day. But five or six times. No. I never dreamed one could meditate so often. Though it is said of Milarepa, a Buddhist yogi, that he meditated so long he almost turned into a plant.
I have returned to my practice, and though I am not yet meditating as frequently as His Holiness does, I have thrown away my clock; one of the perks of being old enough not to care much about time. After all, it is one thing that will probably always be there, wherever you have gone. And I am writing this now because I think it might be helpful medicina for you; especially those of you who will be freed, as I have been, into a wider and deeper understanding of how to rediscover the clear sky that is our mind when we have learned to out sit the mental clouds. (Imagine the mental clouds His Holiness has out sat!)
I have found sitting, as often and for as long as I can, coupled with learning the “news” from comedians – Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Seth Myers and others to be a reliable support for these times.
The historical pattern in situations similar to ours, when the people are in depression, fear and despair, is for the oppressors to drug them into submission, knowing they are desperate to endure no more pain. This has happened in other countries, like China, and it has happened and is happening here. It is essential to learn ways to protect the mind. Increasing one’s frequency and length of meditation and learning bad news first from comedians, could be one of them.
*The Little Book of Inner Peace by His Holiness the Dalai Lama