For the last 24 hours my mind has been in a state of confusion — multiple choices make my head spin. Shall I do this instead of that? Let go of one thing or hold on to another? Shy away from something or take a leap into the unknown? “We’re caught in a traffic jam of discursive thought,” said Chogyam Trungpa. So it is as I face decisions on the new garden in the backyard, chastise myself for a costly mistake I made, wonder about the wisdom of entering a new training program, and notice an ache deep in my heart. Around and around the mind goes. The details are not important. What matters — and why I bother you with this — is that too many choices can cause anxiety.
I’ve read that North Americans have the highest incident of anxiety-related disorders, while people living in countries with relative simplicity and elements of daily religious ritual are healthier. A friend with terminal cancer has gone to Bhutan “to surround myself with people who are generous and kind.” My own travels in Thailand have brought me in touch with people who live such simple lives yet are quick to smile and offer hospitality to strangers.
Is there a way to find smiles and kindness amidst my confusion? Saying that things could be worse is of little use. Labelling my problems as insignificant compared to illness and poverty does not make them go away. So what can I do? How about sitting still and giving monkey mind a rest? How about welcoming what’s going on instead of resisting and complaining? How about directing attention to in-breath and out-breath, the only thing that’s real right now?
What we call “I,” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves, that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no world, no mind nor body; just this swinging door.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971), founder of the San Francisco Zen Center.