I just spent the weekend in the mountains above Madrid with a large group of friends. 3 days of total happiness, enjoying their company, the countryside, moments alone, the end of autumn, and a Sunday full of sunlight and the first snow. Nothing was lacking.
When I got home I realised that I had had everything I needed to be happy, but that I’d taken almost nothing with me. A few clothes, a notebook (in which I wrote a few notes and did one drawing), and something to read (Life without Principle, by Thoreau) – which I read only a little.
No internet, no email, no Whatsapp, no music, no TV. I realise that none of these things are necessary for my happiness, in fact they are probably hinderances to it, as they increase the level of noise in my mind significantly. Anything that increases the level of mental noise, keeps me from seeing life in its purest form. All the noise of modern life keeps me away from the wonders of the present moment.
Do I want to live in a whirlwind of communications and an overload of ever-present ever-intruding information overload, or do I want to see and understand reality, nature, the universe as best as I can on this one-off journey through life?
Thoreau speaks forcefully about this in Life without Principle – that we cannot have a mind clear enough for real understanding and insight if we fill it with gossip and news from the papers – God knows what he’d say about email and Whatsapp – “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.” Change ‘going to the post-office’ for ‘checking email’ – that has been me.
So my aspiration now is to continue further in this direction. To maintain a quiet, uncluttered mind. To protect it, and cleanse it, as Thoreau says:
“If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has not? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind. We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.”
Set the mind to the higher course – not to nations and news and politics, but to wind and sun and being – and the ground of being. Truth, thought, mind, illusion, nature, breath, listening. In my journey through life, the ever-present now, that is my greatest concern – seeing what is. Seeing, being, understanding.
How can I get close to that with politics, news, business, gossip, too much work, and too many projects in the way? The ground of being has to be as clearly visible as possible. I want to see the truth of life, and it’s not going to come from books, lectures, etc, but from the unfiltered seeing of a quiet, empty mind placed in front of the quietest realities of life. It’s not an intellectual exercise. It’s about calming the mind, observing the world, and letting insight arise.