“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” ~John De Paola
My almost three year old, Willow, is obsessed with playing doctor.
She lies on the couch, hands down at her sides. She hands me a small flashlight and a toy frying pan (which I’m told to pretend is a stethoscope) and orders, “Check me out, Doctor Mommy!”
She methodically points out every scratch, scrape, bruise, and freckle on her body. She tells me how much snot she feels in her nose and how many times she coughed, sneezed, and hiccupped that day so that I can give her the most comprehensive treatment possible.
After I go through the doctor motions to her satisfaction, she wants to know how her scratches, bruises, and hiccups will really go away. Since we’re only playing and mommy is not a real doctor, how will her perfect health be restored?
I tell her there is nothing she has to do. Her natural state is perfect health. Her body will tend to return there with no effort on her part.
That’s often, but not always, true of the physical body. Bodies always attempt to heal, but they don’t always return to how they once were. A body is a machine with a roughly 80-year warranty. It is amazing and largely self-correcting, but it’s not foolproof.
Minds, on the other hand, are different. I believe mental health and mental clarity are present in all of us, all of the time.
Sometimes we experience mental health and clarity and sometimes we don’t, just like sometimes we experience sun and sometimes we don’t. The sun is always there behind the clouds. Mental clarity and wisdom are always there, behind our thoughts.
Just like the clouds will always part to reveal the sun, thoughts roll in and thoughts roll out.
Your healthy mind will always return to a state of well-being if you don’t interfere.
As it turns out, not interfering is easier said than done.
Just shy of three, Willow already buys into the notion that humans can “do” life better than the divine intelligence that created us.
She wasn’t always this way.
Nine months ago when her brother was born, she was completely unconcerned when he cried. She looked at the adults in her life—tripping over ourselves to quickly calm the crying baby—as if we were crazy. She seemed to be saying, “Babies cry, you know. What’s the problem?”
But Willow’s brain is rapidly changing. Nine months later, she’s in a different stage of development—more intelligent, more verbal, more logical, more action oriented.
Now she wants to know why he’s crying. What outside, external event caused his emotion? (She already mistakenly believes that emotions are caused by external events—a misunderstanding she learned from every adult around her.)
She wants him to stop crying, and she believes there is something we can and should do to make him stop.
When she looks at me hopeless and frustrated and says, “Can you pleeease make Miller stop crying?” I tell her to just wait a minute. Unless he is hungry or in physical pain, he cries only as long as he feels genuine emotion, which is never longer than a minute to two. Then a brand new emotion rushes in to take that one’s place.
At only nine months old, Miller isn’t verbal; so when he feels emotion, it’s clean. It swiftly runs its course through his body, unimpeded by thought.
He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t have a hard time forgiving. He doesn’t remember the past or worry about the future. He just exists in the now, feeling what he feels, before moving on to whatever is next.
Stepping in and “fixing” a thought or emotion is rarely necessary. There is nothing to fix when you allow them to simply roll in and roll out, just like the clouds.
There is simply nothing to do but wait.
Nearly three-year-old Willow has a lot of advantages over nine-month-old Miller.
She can communicate verbally. She can solve more complex problems. She is starting to understand jokes and sarcasm. Her brain can coordinate jumping and running and cartwheeling.
And nine months old, Miller has a lot of advantages over Willow.
He is more tapped into the wisdom that lies beneath thought. His true state is more accessible to him.
He lives entirely in the present moment, in a perpetual state of readiness to respond to whatever comes his way.
One isn’t better than the other. I’m certainly not knocking the importance or the fun of having higher intelligence.
It’s just that ideally, we could use our minds in both ways. We could use logic and words when we need them, and then wipe the slate clean and return to our natural state of innate wisdom when clarity and peace are what we want.
Using intellect and wisdom gives us a much deeper connection between mind and spirit.
Wiping the Slate Clean
How do you tap into the clarity and wisdom that lies underneath thought? How can you wipe the slate clean?
Some people meditate. Some people take a walk, practice an art, or take a nap. Any of those can do the trick if you enjoy them, but you don’t have to do any of them.
In my experience, the best way to return back to that default state where my baby boy lives is to simply understand the nature of thought.
Understand that thought is fluid and that you are not your thoughts. You are something much, much bigger.
As many spiritual teachers say, you are the one noticing your thoughts. You are the nonphysical force that is able to sit back and notice life happening around you. You can observe thought happening inside of you and remain aware of and detached from it all
When you lean back into your spiritual nature and allow your human psychology (thoughts and emotions) to simply do what they do, you are free. You can watch the endlessly fascinating movie that is your life taking place without getting emotionally hooked into it. You’re much bigger than that movie.
When you don’t cling to thought as if it is true, the slate is wiped clean and your mind goes back to its natural, peaceful state.
You have to be willing to be wrong about everything you know.
It’s then that you catch a glimpse of the innate perfection in the system. You tap into the peace and clarity that lies beneath thought, and you find yourself there.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been away.
It’s effortless for Miller, but it’s accessible to all of us. Whether you were there just months ago, like Willow, or it’s been decades, peace and clarity are always only a thought away.
Photo by Pink Sherbert Photography