Some experiences we cannot change
Thoughts about them, we can rearrange
Life does not repeat itself—each moment is unique and different. We cling to experiences, either through craving or rejection. Life operates in the present, where everything is new. We divide our attention between what is happening now and events that recede into the past. Thoughts are powerful tools. Rather than employing them to magnify the past, we can use them as a helpful tool to enhance our experience of the present.
Our attitude towards this moment makes all the difference. It reflects the degree and depth of conditioning that make us reflexively react to our thoughts. Before they can present their contents and ‘their side of the story,’ we prejudge the experience based on our craving or aversion. These have deep roots, and every thought carries a signature of one or the other.
Without these contaminants, the experience of life will always be fresh and new. We will be like children—happy and carefree. Unlike adults who are serious and business-like, children don’t carry the remnants of one day to the next. Their approach to each day is whole and total. With the knack of squeezing out every last drop of enjoyment, they serve as ideal role models for how to be happy.
We cannot choose a convenient time for experiences to unfold. The most significant experience of our lives may happen when we least expect them. Conversely, we may be harboring expectations for momentous events to occur in our lives, but all we encounter may be ‘ordinary’ ones.
Relinquishing control over experiences—when they happen, how they arrive, repetition, avoidance, quality, and quantity—is liberating. It frees a significant portion of the mind’s energies. Thoughts gain their freedom from us, as we do from them.
Time owns everything. Nothing is ours. Once we let go of trying to control the flow of experiences, the next step is facing each one with patience. We grade experiences based on their upside or downside potential. We work towards maximizing the gains while covering the losses we perceive. It becomes tiring. The mind turns into a ‘trading house’ with a tense atmosphere rather than a place where we can rest our attention and relax.
It is easy to deal with the upside that comes with any experience. It makes us happy, satisfies desires, and life appears like a smooth, straight road. How we approach the downside makes the difference between peace and turmoil in the mind.
The critical question to ask is, ‘What is the worst that can happen?’
Each experience rises, peaks, and eventually subsides as time moves forward. We get caught up in the rise and the summit, and we don’t allow experiences to fade with time. We carry into our memory emotions that well up near the peak of an experience.
Emotions create wounds. With sad ones, it is obvious. But when we start craving only happiness, it ultimately leads to suffering. Our memory is a storehouse of such wounds. Some are raw, and others are in various states of healing. They never get a chance to come out into the open and heal completely. We imprison them through identification as ‘my experience, my hurt.’
Let’s say we are standing at the edge of a rough ocean, and a big wave unexpectedly knocks us down. It cannot pin us down permanently. Once the wave hits the shore, it turns into bubbles of foam and disappears, and it becomes harmless. One wave makes way for another. They may be big or small, dangerous, or benign, but each one is unique and has its beauty. If we choose to play in the surf, we also assume the likelihood of being knocked around by large waves. Instead, if we stand at a safe distance, they cannot touch us.
Similarly, the mind is an ocean of energy with countless waves of experiences. When we allow our attention to ‘swim’ amid those waves, we must also be ready to get tossed around. Just as waves push empty seashells towards the shore, the conscious mind pushes old experiences aside to make way for new ones.
The mind is full of such old experiences—dead and empty shells we carry wherever we go. In attempts to bring them back to life, we fill them with our imaginations and projections. At best, a sea shell is a decorative piece if it is unique in shape, texture, color, or size. Similarly, we can hold a few significant experiences in our memory to add a little color to the mind. But we should be careful not to hoard past experiences.
Keeping the ‘hallways’ of the mind clutter-free helps the free flow of thoughts. Life comes at us with a gentle force when we are open and welcoming. This happens when we enter a state of witnessing—watching new experiences wash away old ones without reacting. With time, the ‘insides’ of the mind become clean, without stagnant pockets of trapped mental energy.
Emptying the mind and maintaining its energies in a fluid state bring us in tune with the inherent rhythm of life. It is calming. Being aware of all the change that is happening inside and out, but not identifying with those changes helps us align with existence. It is like sitting by the ocean and hearing the calming sound of waves gently lapping the shore. There is no beginning nor end to those sounds.
When we are with our true nature—changelessness—we see its thread running through every thought and experience. We will then find no need to change or modify any experience. We will enjoy life as it presents itself in each moment.