Tuesday morning I listened to a lecture by an American Buddhist teacher named Tara Brach, who spoke of how the minds of most people careen relentlessly from one fearful, self-protective thought to another. She said this happens on average about 86,000 times a day. (This works out to a thought per second.) I don’t know where she came by this figure, but from my own neurotic experience, it seems about right.
Obviously, this sort of compulsive thinking is not conducive to inner peace. But Brach said it also deprives us of the ability to fully appreciate the beauty and wonder that is part of every human life. For one example, most of us can momentarily appreciate a full moon, but then the cell phone pings, and/or the mind resumes its mad swirl about regrets of the day or fears of tomorrow.
These thought patterns are deeply ingrained in us all, but Brach says that they can be changed. The practice of mindfulness and meditation are useful in this regard. She also suggested this simple exercise. When coming across wonder or beauty, count to 30 and consciously drink it in, rather than letting it be just pleasing blip in the mental stream.
And as fate would have it … An hour after listened to Bach’s lecture, I was on my daily walk along the Trinity River. At one point, I noticed a squirrel flitting back and forth around the trunk of a tree just a few feet from the trail. The squirrel didn’t seem to notice as I approached. Nonetheless, I was about to hurry by, preoccupied by this or that, when I recalled Brach’s suggestion.
I paused and turned to face him (or her), and slowly began to count. With only a few feet between us, the squirrel and I engaged in the wonderful, cosmic stare-down. The creature was still there when I got to 30. So, yes, I grabbed my cell phone.
Allow me to introduce you.