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Clear Mind, Empty Head?: A Leak in 'Mind Like Water'

by Maya Talisman Frost

There's a lot of talk in meditation circles about emptying the mind. This is a roadblock for many people. Why? Because it's counterintuitive. After all, we spend most of our waking hours filling up our minds. We go to school, we get trained, we read, we learn, we absorb information from all around us. Then someone comes along and tells us that the best thing we can do is EMPTY our mind? Why would we want to do that?

Empty isn't a good thing in most cases. Empty wallet? Empty gas tank? Empty bank account? Empty restaurant? These aren't conditions we find satisfying. Mention your feelings of "emptiness" to your doctor and you may end up with a prescription for Prozac. Would you take it as a compliment if someone referred to you as "empty-headed"? Not likely.

We seek fullness in our bellies, our hearts and our lives. Going for empty goes against the grain.

We've already got plenty of reasons to avoid meditation. It seems difficult, uncomfortable, or just plain boring to a lot of newcomers. We don't need any semantic obstacles. Hearing that little voice saying, "Your mind is not empty--you're lousy at this!" only adds to the clutter that muddies our spirit, fogs our intention, and paralyzes our progress.

We must relinquish this expectation that we are supposed to attain this state of emptiness--complete non-thinking--in order to have a good meditation session. Staying attached to this ideal is likely to provide just one more nudge in the never-mind direction.

David Allen is a productivity trainer and consultant who is the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. He offers valuable tips for dealing with the clutter that crowds our minds so that we can free up space for greater creativity.

Like Jim Ballard in his book called Mind Like Water: Keeping Your Balance In A Chaotic World, Allen uses the martial arts term to describe the process of preparing our mind for appropriate responses to demands. Having a "mind like water" refers to one's ability to react and reflect in a balanced way. If you drop a stone in a still pond, the ripples will appear in a direct, appropriate response to the force and mass of that stone. Nothing more, nothing less. As the ripples dissipate, the pond returns to stillness.

That's a great way to look at how our minds respond when we feel relaxed and stress-free. We don't snap at our kids or get cranky with our co-workers. We get our tasks completed in a way that is efficient and without unnecessary action, emotion, or distraction. We have a point to which we return continually as we go through our day. There is no overreaction or failure to respond.

Still. Ripple. Still.

The only leak in this "mind like water" discussion is that Allen sticks with the tried-and-true "empty mind" terminology. That's too bad. It would have been a perfect opportunity to switch to clear!

When the "empty mind" concept becomes a barrier, slip into "clear mind" instead. After all, a pond is not empty. It is clear. Plenty of water. Rocks and mud at the bottom. Fish swimming here and there. If the water is clear, you can see it all and the finest details become magnified as they pop into view.

The important aspect is our ability to see whatever we need to see. What happens when you toss a stone into an empty pond? Not much. It makes a thud on the muddy bottom. Sure, you can see it. But what's the point?

Your mind will continue to have thoughts. Don't expect to avoid them. Drop the idea that you can remain "thoughtless" and embrace the value of seeing those thoughts clearly.

You've spent years filling your head. Mindfulness gives you the clarity to see what's going on in there without having to dump the contents first. By releasing the notion of emptiness, you can step into the power of clarity.

Empty mind? Clear mind? Choose the image that works for you.

I'll cast my vote for clear.

See Also:

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Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her course, Massage Your Mind!: Defining Your Life Philosophy, has inspired thinkers in over 80 countries around the world. Her free weekly e-zine, the Friday Mind Massage, serves up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com

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