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Jenga towers of the mind

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Our mind is a lot like a Jenga tower. Over our lifetime, our experiences have stacked on top of each other until we are a glorious mess of an adult tower of wisdom, strategies for survival and emotions.

What a mess! Imagine the teenage hormone stuff mixed in with the baby stuff, mixed in with the first kiss, mixed in with public speaking, mixed in with brushing your teeth. Well often the mind is like that. The order is so mysterious to the conscious person experiencing the order that we can almost assume that there is no order at all!

That is, at least until we start to look at it.

Any meditative exercise will start to inspire me to notice what the mind does when I try to follow instruction. Well it just doesn’t happen! I get distracted, memories pop in, and then I’m daydreaming. So I put my mind back on the breath and sure enough, within a few seconds I’ve followed a trail away to some other point of focus.

But it’s not random! After a couple of iterations I can start to see the way my mind goes traveling. First I hear a noise, then I notice the noise reminded me of the sound a boat makes, then I remember when I was in 3rd grade I went on a boat with school and suddenly I’m dealing with the shame of feeling seasick in front of my classmates. So I’ve seen it, my mind went here. But why. Well it turns out that just this week I was dealing with an issue at work where I was feeling shame around speaking in public and asking questions in meetings. And it was the same flavour of shame that I’ve been dealing with since 3rd grade.

What first looks like chaos, turns out to have a very specific order. The present emotional experiences are linked to the past emotional experiences. The only reason why I’m so uncomfortable today asking questions in meetings, is that I’m still re-living my nausea of 3rd grade. And why is it coming up? It’s coming up to teach me a lesson. To resolve something left unanswered when I first suppressed it all those years ago.

As I stay present, the mind starts to organise itself. That 3rd grade memory turns into me as an adult watching my memory, and it feels bad. What a sad little kid, he’s so embarrassed because just a few days earlier he was on the playground and the boys were making fun of each other for being weak. He is worried about being weak and managing that experience, so he’s a bit stuck not showing how sick he is.

In that moment, my mind feels compassion towards the kid and his struggle. Towards my memory. Towards myself. And suddenly my queasy feeling unlocks and it’s gone, as is my social fear.

And all that is left is the breath. Clear, sharp, smooth, easy.

Our mind is a lot like a Jenga tower. Only now my mind is a little bit more clear. The tower stands straighter. With one less block out of place, one less negative memory influencing my existence.