Feel In

In May, my mother-in-law and sister- and brother-in-law are driving from Minnesota to Virginia for a visit. After the excitement of getting the dates in the calendar, my first thought was, “I need to figure out what I’ll cook for them!”

After a sleepless night, I walk to yoga thinking, “I’m tired so I should figure out how many Wheels to do in class today.”

A friend announces her upcoming birthday party and I think, “Hmmm, now to figure out what to wear!”

It happens when I’m driving. And when I’m falling asleep. And doing chores. It happens a lot.
I catch myself figuring things out that aren’t actually things that need to be figured out.

In her book, The Not So Big Life, Sarah Susanka makes the distinction between “working mind” and “thinking mind.” She says,

…the spontaneous response to situations in the present moment is “working mind,” a label coined by the author and teacher Ramesh Balsekar. This is mind without baggage, with out preconceiving and second-guessing. As soon as you find yourself planning how to cope with a situation or with an eventuality that might come about as a consequence of a projected sequence of events, you are in “thinking mind” — the mind that believes it is up to it to orchestrate reality. (p. 186)

I notice that when I say “I need to figure out…” the space between my eyebrows contracts, my eyes (and brain) get a little tight. This is the sensation of “thinking mind” and it not only takes me out of the present moment, it is exhausting.

“It is not half so important to know as to feel.” – Rachel Carson

I’m married to a man who was born to build things. He creates furniture, cabinetry and beautiful spaces to live in. One of the results of his gift is that I’ve moved quite a lot in the past 20 years. We’re about to move into our sixth home together (not including our rolling camper home and various other places we stayed when we were between houses). Usually when faced with a move, I go into full-on FIGURE IT OUT mode so I can “cope with an eventuality that might come about as a consequence of a projected sequence of events.” This time, I’ve done my best to approach the move from “working mind.” I’m doing my best to be more in the flow and the inspiration, clearing spaces and making decisions from how it feels rather than from between my eyebrows.

This is not to say that planning is a bad thing, or even that thinking is a bad thing. Planning and thinking are tools that are extraordinarily helpful. Instead, I’m practicing noticing when I am over-planning, over-controlling, over-managing. When I find myself spinning and grinding and trying really hard to figure something out, instead I’m feel it out. Often, this means trusting that I will know when I need to know with more wisdom than I could possibly know now.

In her dharma talk on impermanence, Tara Brach quotes poet John O’Donohue:

“We’re so busy managing our life so to cover over this great mystery we’re involved in.”

What would happen if you dropped unnecessary managing and controlling and stepped into the mystery? What might it be like to trust that the present is unfolding and that you can sense what is the most skillful next step.

Instead of figuring it out, feel in.

4 comments
  1. Lynn Pribus said:

    I’m not a great sleeper, but when I’m in bed, I’ve learned not to be thinking about tomorrow (which would be figuring out, of course), but to turn my mind to yesterday or last week or — and this works best for me — to “walk” through my childhood home in my mind. I seldom make it to the second floor…

    • Ah, yes! The “figuring out the next day” trap! I fall into that one all the time. Perhaps tonight instead, I’ll take a walk through our house on Falls River Drive! Here’s to feeling it out. ❤

  2. Deb Prum said:

    Great essay. Have you read Susanka’s book on small houses? I love it. Just discovered Tara Brach–I like her brief meditations.

    • Hey Deb ~ yes, husband is a big fan of her philosophy for houses and has applied a lot of her principles in his work. The interesting thing (or one of the interesting things) about the Not So Big Life is that she takes the principles of the Not So Big House and applies them to living. Really cool. ❤

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