The Still Mind

Our world observed from stillness


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Forget Your Guilty Mind

Image Credit: Shawn Phelps.com

Image Credit: Shawn Phelps.com

To err is human. Indeed, living in this world can present us with situations in our lives which we feel as though we could have acted differently–an altercation with a friend, family member or colleague where words were exchanged which upon reflection afterwards, filled your being with the unsettling, culpable feeling we know as guilt.

Guilt, and negative emotions in general, can weigh on the mind to the point of affecting health of the body. In this world of stress and expensive medicine, maintaining command of your emotional mind is an important component in the maintenance of inner peace, and in turn, health.

It is something that we all experience, yet continue to bring upon ourselves over and over again. What are the origins of this feeling? And how do we keep guilt from consuming us to the point where we can’t live anymore?

Origins

“I hate you!” she said, pushing him back against the wall. “Get away from me! You’re so stupid!” A set of words and actions that emerged automatically the instant her blood boiled from hearing something that flew in the face of her normal expectations. There are only two emotions, love and fear, with all others being variations of the two, respectively. She was enveloped in the realm of fear, erupting forth from her reptilian brain.
When we react without conscious thought, that is the domain of the survival aspect of the brain–the reptilian brain, or R-complex. You can identify actions and feelings originating from the reptilian brain via their automatic, fear-ridden expression, followed by guilt and embarrassment due to the fact that you acted without thinking, and said and did things you now regret. When conscious thought is allowed to return, the guilt and remorse comes along with it. Think how many times we have said or had someone say to us “you really weren’t yourself. You were acting like a totally different person.” This is because the brain was under different command for a spell.

The reptilian brain is the oldest part of the brain, nestled at the top of the spinal cord in the center of the brain, with its function principally oriented for survival. In this capacity, it hasn’t the ability to think, and indeed it wouldn’t have such an ability, because it is a system that needs to act as fast as possible. Thus, there is no time for there to be any processing of conscious thoughts, simply knee-jerk reaction.

The Solution Goes Hand in Hand With the Problem

Acting in an unconscious manner in difficult scenarios seems unavoidable, but now that you know the source of the problem, the answer is hitched along with it. The best way to deal with guilt and remorse is to avoid it in the first place.
Here are three steps to take to prevent a reptilian brain-induced loss of control that leads to guilt after the fact:

1.Breathe
And breath deep. The reaction, fight-or-flight system causes an arousal in the body, because you feel as though your well-being and/or your world view is under attack, or that you are about to lose something important to you, like a boyfriend or girlfriend, for example. The breath becomes shallow and quick. To counteract that, breathe deep and slow, which enacts the relaxation response in the body.

2. Observe your thoughts.
The reptilian brain doesn’t think, so when you think and try to understand what is really going on, it takes away control from the knee-jerk reaction section of the brain. This ability improves with practice, as with most anything else.

3. Forgive.
To err is human, to forgive divine. This step is more applicable after the fact. Forgiving not only is directed at other people who have done us wrong, but also directed at ourselves. Letting ourselves get taken away by emotion is something that is not easy to control. After an altercation in which you’ve done or said something regretful, realize that it was something that took you away for a moment, and work on moving away from dwelling in its wake.


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Mindful Steps – The Art of Moving Stillness

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The walking of everyday life tends to be birthed of a certain purpose, and rarely is a purpose of walking for the sake of walking. Busy-ness serves as the bow that launches the arrow of intent of such walking. Hurried walking from one day with the intent of making it through to the next day as quickly as possible, leads to weeks, then months, then years, and left unabated, then a lifetime of hurried steps. Hurried steps are not limited to walking, for the movement from place to place is the offspring of the workings of the mind. Thus, hurried steps reflect a hurried mind, and a hurried mind becomes a hurried life (I’m sure we all are familiar with the adage “haste makes waste”).

Walking may seem like the most simplest of activities, and sure it may be, but when we walk, are we really aware of the act of walking, or is it more of a means to an end? Mindful walking, however, is something far more involved than one might realize, simply because Continue reading


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The Still Mind – Zen Tales Of Shi Song Shu – Chapter 2: There Is No Enemy

There is No Enemy

Shi Song Shu having learned vegetable planting from his mysteriously intriguing human teacher, was in the garden tending to his corn stalks. The sun was directly overhead, signaling the appearance of mid-day. A breeze suddenly arose, and Song Shu stopped to bask in the brisk relief it brought from the pounding sun. A rustling noise caught his attention, and his ear twitched as it honed in on the direction of the sound. Being that there is a family of stray cats that roam around the neighborhood, Song Shu was quite sure he knew what the sound was, and he feigned obliviousness, continuing with his gardening. The cat closed in step by deliberate step. He got close enough to pounce, and as he leaped, Song Shu evaded his attack effortlessly. The cat continued to pursue, but his advances were futile as Song Shu seemed to dodge and float through the air as freely and evasively as rice paper caught in the wind. It was not long until the cat tired, and his advances were diminished to labored panting. Song Shu, seeing that the cat was unable to continue, approached him and drew his dried gourd of water and handed it to him. The cat initially stunned, not wanting to pass up a drink of water at this critical moment, grasped the gourd and tossed it back. Song Shu stood and smiled as he watched the cat take in this desperately needed water.
“Thank you,” the cat began, panting as the last drops of water dripped from the fur on his lower jaw, “may I ask why you saw it fit to give me a drink even after I just tried to eat you? I must say, it rather took me by surprise.”
“You needed water,” Song Shu replied in his even-toned voice.
“Well sure, but you could have died because of me,” the cat said, trying desperately to understand his former prey seemingly turned friend.
“Maybe, but I didn’t, and you still needed water,” replied Song Shu, still in his original even tone. The cat’s stomach grumbled. Song Shu continues, “I was just about to make something to eat. If you are hungry, I can make something for you also.”
“Well, I am hungry, but I don’t want to impose.” His stomach grumbled again.
“No imposition, I assure you it’s quite alright. Come.” Song Shu prepared two bowls of noodles for the two of them, and they sat together at the table at the base of Song Shu’s tree. Song Shu said nothing, but all the while, the cat was running thoughts around in his mind. He had clearly just tried to take this humble little squirrel’s life, but now he acted as if it never happened, and even made him a bowl of noodles to quell his hunger. Song Shu could sense the weight on the cats mind, and without looking up from his bowl of noodles, asked, “What’s troubling you, friend?”
“I’m just confused, I suppose. Most squirrels are afraid of us cats, and stay away. Likewise, we cats chase those squirrels and try to eat them, so naturally the squirrels would stay away. But you seem not to be scared, nor are you trying to flee. Instead you invited me to a bowl of your delicious noodles… Some would say that we are supposed to be enemies,” the cat explained. Shi Song Shu gave a soft chuckle at the cat’s last sentence, and lifted his chopsticks to his mouth, and sucked the noodles in with a quick slurp.
“There is only an enemy when your mind says there is an enemy. If one is not to be another’s enemy, he need only put down the idea for it to happen,” Song Shu replied, once again, in his tranquil tone. “You tried to eat me because you were hungry. Your mind saw a squirrel and equated me with food. When you could not catch me, I surmised that you were still hungry, thus, I offered to make you some food so you could fill your stomach.” Shi Song Shu took another slurp of noodles, then continued, “I have no wish to be enemies with you, so why would I act in a manner that enemies do?”
The cat was puzzled, for he did not know how to respond to Song Shu’s answer, and it completely took him by surprise. He had never thought of this type of situation in such a manner before. He had no words. Song Shu gently took notice of the cat’s silence.
“Ah ha!” Song Shu exclaimed, chuckling blissfully, “there you are! An honor to make your acquaintance, my friend,” bowing his head slightly, eyes seemingly shut. The cat was perplexed, yet also intrigued by this most peculiar squirrel. He replied, in soft acknowledgement, nodding his head in return, “An honor.”
“Some tea?” asked Song Shu, offering his special brew of pine tea.
“Yes, please,” replied the cat, humbly.


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The Still Mind – Zen Tales Of Shi Song Shu Chapter 1: The Doing That Has No Meaning

Song Shu sat on the deck of his tree temple which he built not long after he began his seclusion. He was sitting, meditating on the sunrise. Yellow-stained orange light illuminated Song Shu’s sitting place, as not one movement was there from his body; breathing steady as a mechanical pump. Chirping from the birds suddenly arose as the sun drew higher in the sky.

“What are you doing?” came a voice from in back and above Song Shu. A young bird sat atop the temple roof, peering down at the unmoving squirrel.

“I am sitting,” replied Song Shu as he let the air from his lungs escape as smoothly as water through a cell membrane. He did not turn around to see who it was. He continued in his unflinching pose.

“What for?” asked the bird, fluttering down to get a glimpse of this peculiar squirrel. “Are you injured or something? Can you not forage today?”

“No, I am quite well.”

“So why are you sitting here like this?” the bird was increasing his curious tone, as he sought to inquire as to the strange non-activity of the squirrel.

“Just to sit.”

“Oh…” The bird was rather unsatisfied with this answer. This squirrel’s strange manner rather perplexed him, since he had never seen anyone, let alone a squirrel, sitting so still unless it was feeding on an acorn, or scared stiff. The bird began to pace around in front of Song Shu, studying him, thinking, reasoning. He looked at Song Shu’s face and noticed his eyes were closed.

“Sleepy, perhaps?” asked the bird.

“No, I am quite firmly awake,” replied Song Shu, still in his usual serene, unperturbed tone.

“Oh…” He hopped toward Song Shu. He wanted to examine him closer. Song Shu, feeling the bird’s curiosity beating down on him like the mid-day sun, shown a gentle smile.

“Curious bird, would you really like to know why I am sitting?” uttered Song Shu.

“Why, yes, of course!” the bird replied with a delighted flutter of his wings.

“I am sitting for the same reason the sun shines, the grass is green, and the trees are tall,” answered Song Shu, his breathing never breaking rhythm. The bird tipped his head to one side in utter baffled confusion. That didn’t answer his question at all, and what’s worse, it created even more questions that the young bird simply could not put his head around. His body slacked, as he let out a bellow of disappointed breath.

“I don’t quite understand such an answer, sir,” squeaked the bird. He plunked his body down on the deck in front of Song Shu, with a quick ruffle of his feathers, settling in.

“Good, you can join me while I sit,” said Song Shu, eyes still closed.

“Do you do this every morning?” Asked the bird, half expecting to receive another nonsensical response.

“From night until day, I sit,” replied Song Shu. The bird fluttered his feathers in amazement.

“What do you mean? Don’t you sleep?” the bird asked.

“When I am tired, I will sleep.”

“But how do you go an entire night without sleeping?”

“As peacefully as a rock sits on the ground in Spring.” Alas, the bird was to get no definitive answers from this squirrel, which quite ironically sparked his curiosity to want to know more.

“How do you do this sitting?” the bird asked after a long pause of deliberation.

“Just sit,” replied Song Shu. “But sit without yourself,” he added. Sigh, more incomprehensibility, but the young bird was intrigued, nonetheless.

“I shall try this ‘sitting with no meaning’. I am but a young bird. I haven’t much else to do.”

“Very well. Do as you wish.” Song Shu finally opened his eyes, and looked down at the little bird. “If you want to learn, we shall begin your training tomorrow, at dawn. I will go tend to the garden now. You should fly home to your nest.” The little bird fluttered his wings with excitement.

“Ok! I will be back early tomorrow,” he exclaimed with glee.