A friend of mine once remarked “Each day, I think of every person that I’ve ever known”.
Really? I seriously doubted that.
Yet as I watched my own thought patterns, it didn’t seem that far-fetched.
Most of my activities, especially when I was alone, reminded me briefly of someone I knew. If I didn’t watch carefully, I missed these images entirely as my mind skittered from thought to thought.
As I balanced my checkbook, a friend appeared to me for just an instant, a man whose ordered life I admired. He seemed to nod approvingly, then vanished.
When I went to rest my tired legs, lifted them as I sat in my favorite chair, my aunt’s voice came to me, her weary sigh right in time with my own.
These images continued, unbidden. Most were benign, some a little troubling. Introvert that I am, relatively independent of others, I am surprised that so many people appear to me in the course of a day.
I believe this is a remnant of childhood, a time of our total dependence on others. We are attuned to the faces and voices of friend and stranger, those who protect us and those who could harm us. This focal point remains and is internalized as we mature.
So what value can these images, these daily visitors, bring to our lives? The encouraging ones bring a familiar warmth, a comforting connection. But the troubling ones seem to ask something more of us. They come to the surface, demanding attention, time after time. We can push them away, but as we do, there is a sense of unpleasantness. Suddenly, we feel a little down or angry, and may spiral into negative thinking, left with a feeling that something isn’t quite right.
But wait! Ten minutes before, it was a new, shining day and the possibilities for joy were endless, a gilded path before us. So what happened? How can a mood darken so quickly, how does one get back on track?
One method is meditation. Human minds have always been plagued by random thoughts that can lead us astray. Meditation comes in many forms, but the basic practice invites us to watch our thoughts as we would watch ripples in a stream, rising and falling, avoiding attachment to any of them.
We must realize that our thoughts are not our essence, but the associations created by agile minds that were designed to sense changes and possible dangers at every moment.
The value of detachment from our random thoughts becomes obvious, and brings stress relief and spiritual renewal, as we develop the practice of letting go.
My friend, quoted in the opening line, is a person capable of watching the faces from his past come and go with warm acceptance, perhaps nostalgia for days gone by. And I believe that for him, troublesome guests provide an opportunity to spar, rather than a road to despair.
But we are all different, some pulled more forcefully toward the dark currents of life than others.
For me, the best approach is to offer a little blessing to those who arise before me, especially those whose insistent grip won’t let me go.
When someone tugs at my heart and mind, prompting a pang of sadness or regret, I say a little prayer for both of us. For me, to help me open to the meaning of this pain: perhaps to smooth rough edges, release narrow aims. For him, to send him on his way in love and peace, hoping that we meet again on better terms.