Quieting the Mind –The Journey Within by Giselle Marrinan
“My sense is, wherever you are, and whatever your religious orientation or lack of it, just go to silence whether it’s by taking a walk or going into a retreat house is like going into a hospital for the soul” – Pico Iyer
‘A hospital for the soul’…Interesting choice of words! Most of the time, we know how to deal with our physical health. Deep down, we know what to eat; the importance of sleep; exercise-how many steps we should be getting per day. We are conscious of education, what clothes to wear and so, the list goes on. However, we neglect the one thing we all crave; that inner peace. The space, to let ourselves touch base with our inner being.
What would true stillness look like? For me, it is the experience I get, when I wake up and there has been a fall of snow during the night. There is a blanket of white everywhere, stilling the landscape. Like starting afresh, washing everything in its path. This ‘hush’, silences our thoughts and instils a sense of child- like wonderment. What footprints do we want to make in the fresh snow and with our lives?
Unfortunately, most frequently, the revelation of the need for inner quiet is grasped at a time of personal crisis; be it through: bereavement, burn out at work, loss of a relationship, nervous break – down, or just a feeling that there must be something more.
I have met people who are earning good salaries and are well respected in their working life; yet desperately need to make sense of their lives. Sometimes we just need to jump off the roller coaster and quiet the mind, in order to see the way forward.
For me, this happened during a combination of events: My uncle’s terminal illness and my leaving the corporate world. Prior to the conscious decision to jump, I had chased after money, kudos and all the trappings that go with it. Don’t get me wrong, it set me up for life and gave me the space, where I had the luxury of being able to jump off the hamster wheel and go on a journey within.
The question then arose: If I wasn’t my job and everything that went with it; who was the real me? I knew that I was more than this; and I wanted to find out what it would be like, to still the mind. Maybe some answers would then have the space to surface.
“In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” – Rumi
I remember being somewhat apprehensive of going on a ten day silent retreat; not knowing what to expect. I had never really been alone before and this was a new experience. What would come up for me? The only technology I included was my mobile phone in case of any family emergencies. I told everyone not to contact me, unless it was really important. I also packed the car with lots of food, the wrong kind of course, sweets, crisps, cakes. When the nun showed me to my isolated hermitage, in the remote foothills of the Ladie Brae mountains, in Sligo, she must have thought: what have we here? Does this person think there is going to be a nuclear fallout? I laugh now, when I look back on this time.
For the first 3 days, I ate a lot and felt it hard not having any external stimuli: television, texts, music and phone calls. I even took to leaving my watch off, so that I could be in touch with my own internal clock. As Malidoma Patrice Some (elder of the Dagara people, author and teacher) points out: ‘What is blocking our connection with our intuition is noise – a lot of it’.
The night times seemed particularly scary and darker, than I had ever previously noticed. (The last time I had noticed real darkness was in my 20s; whilst staying in a hut with the Karen Tribe, in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand) .There were sounds of animals moving outside my hermitage, which at first, kept me awake.
I learned a lot about fear in those ten days: Fear of being alone; fear of darkness and isolation; fear of being confronted by my own thoughts; fear of trekking through the mountains alone. Ultimately, I learned that fear is about imaginings. What might happen? Most of the time, it is in the mind. I am so glad I pushed through those fears and came out the other side, wiser and stronger. It has been said: that we come into the world alone and go out the same way. So, we might as well get comfortable with this reality and face-off our fears!
Oddly, being alone with just my own thoughts was really weird. Here’s the strange point: after roughly 3 days things changed; I changed. I fell into a rhythm of: waking naturally in the morning; having a small breakfast; hiking into the hills; lighting my turf fire in the evening and preparing a small supper. I was eating less and appreciating my food more. My mind became active in a more fruitful way.
My faith deepened. I reached what the Celts called: ‘The Thin Place’; God’s presence seemed more accessible here. The cycle of life and all around me became more alive: the colours more vivid; sounds more pronounced; all my senses became heightened. It was the first time in my adult life, that I became truly alive and really in touch with myself. It was a turning point in my life. I was beginning to see the things that made me really happy and grateful. Yes! You’ve guessed it! They weren’t material things.
In retreating from our busy world, we become more in touch with our intuition. The Icelandic people have a word for intuition, ‘Innsaei’, which has multiple meanings. I love the spirit they place behind this word. Let me share it with you:
- The sea within
- To see within
- To see from the inside out. If we can go deep inside and give ourselves space to touch base with our intuition, we can hopefully tune in to our purpose in life and have more clarity about the world around us. Malidoma warns us that: ‘The sound of the external world is muting the sound of the internal world’. Ultimately, our intuition pays the price for it; and what a price to pay; since most of life’s decisions are best made from our deep, intuitive mind, at a subliminal level. Of course, you don’t have to do anything as extreme as going away, like me, for 10 days alone in splendid isolation. You might just want to find an hour a day, in a quiet place, to still your mind. The benefits can be amazing. Do it enough and you will crave this stilling of the mind. You will go inward, on a journey of self- discovery.
Stilling the Mind
- Find somewhere quiet, where you know you won’t be disturbed (some people have loft space and have quite literally drawn the ladder up, so no one can intrude).
- Make yourself really comfortable.
- Make sure the temperature is just right for you- not too hot or cold.
- You may like to have some stilling music, or maybe just complete silence.
- Softly, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing…in and out.
- Notice the difference in the air as it comes in and goes out…
- Allow the muscles in your body to relax from the top of your head to the tips of your toes…
- Notice the feeling of the materials of the clothes you are wearing against your skin. Are they rough or smooth?
- You may soon begin to notice how very comfortable your body is feeling…
- You are completely supported by the chair, so you can let go and relax…
- Let your mind drift away. Don’t try and stop thoughts coming into your mind, just notice them and let them move effortlessly away. Making no judgements.
- Breathing in and out until you are no longer aware of the breathing as it happens, all by itself.
- Allow yourself as long as you like. (If you want, you can set a timer for this.) If you are in bed, then just allow yourself to drift into sleep.
The more you practice stilling the mind, the more natural it will seem. I tell people: if they have the luxury of having a spare room in the house, to make this their little sanctuary for relaxation. This is also good, as soon, the room becomes associated/ anchored in the mind, as a place of quiet and peace.
Tips to help you still the mind
Seek out a place where you feel totally relaxed, safe and peaceful. This can be a real place, or it can be a place in your imagination, whether from the past, or present.
Don’t try to stop intrusive thoughts; but rather note them and let them pass through, unhindered and without judgement.
Try staying in the present moment; when your mind wanders, guide it gently back to the present moment in time.
Strangely enough, when your mind gets too busy, you may want to take a walk outside in the fresh air, to change the scene and interrupt your cycle of thoughts. Sometimes, if we sit focussing on an anxious thought, for too long, we start snowballing; that is to say, we start to think of other problems we may have, either in the future, or those of the past. If we can break the cycle, then so much the better.
Listen to calming music. There is plenty to choose from out there.
If you are in a place with too much noise and activity; if it is possible, remove yourself from the situation. If not, use earphones.
Smile from your heart; loosen the muscles around your mouth and jaw; allow your face to smile softly.
Familiarize yourself with various breathing techniques. One technique I use with my clients, is the Buteyko method. This is so powerful and it is worth checking out on the web.
Pick a time out of your busy day to meditate. This may seem an impossible task, but it is more accessible than you think. Here is a quick exercise from Dr Herbert Benson, (a Boston physician, and researcher) to practise getting into the zone. A good exercise for those who are impatient to get things done quickly.
Five minute meditation
√_________│1_________│2_________│3________4│_______│5_______√ Extremely Relaxed Extremely Anxious
N.B. Before beginning this exercise, make a mental note as to where you are on the scale above.
- Sit in a relaxed position and allow your eyes to close softly.
- Breathe out slowly through your nose.
- Focus your attention on your breathing.
- Silently say the word ‘relax’ (or a word which resonates with you) each time you exhale.
- After 5 minutes, open your eyes and note where you are now on the scale above.
The more you practice meditation, the more accomplished you will become. You will begin to see the benefits over a period of time, depending on your commitment to yourself!
“Meeting the challenges of being still, allows the inner storm or calm to bubble to the surface, thereby, enabling dynamic transformation”
*The above is an edited extract from the book, ‘Another Zero’ by Giselle Marrinan published by Book Hub Publishing. The full chapter with illustrations and photographs is contained in her book.