I’ve been chasing two combines with the grain buggy for most of the day. One of them has broken down. It has been a long week, with not a lot of sleep and rain in the forecast. Tensions are high on the crew – we weren’t communicating well and I keep thinking about the pile of work (including this column) that is waiting for me when I am done for the night. Then this!
I now have 15 minutes to wait for the one (functioning) combine. With this new-found time, I grab my phone to check my emails, reply to texts and, after that, I let my mind run frantically down its to-do list just to create some more stress for myself. When I reach the bottom, I start at the top again.
Then I flip to Headspace on my phone. I had made a New Year’s Resolution to meditate every day and I’ve got the Headspace app that plays guided breathing exercises and tracks if I do them each day. Usually I can find a few minutes alone at home for it but meditating in a tractor would be a first for me!
Maybe you’re wondering what the heck meditation is? Well, I think of it as training the mind to relax. Without training, our monkey minds won’t stop – they swing from limb to limb, hoot and holler, tell tall tales and start fights – and it is exhausting! I can only speak for myself here but I’ve realized that pretty much all my suffering is self-inflicted – it comes from my monkey mind. For a long time, I thought that my thoughts were true, that my assumptions were reality, my memories real and my worries warranted. I lived as a victim to my mind until I figured out it could be trained. It could be quiet.
In my quiet mind, there are no to-do lists, no stories about the past or fears about the future. There is only the breathing in and the breathing out. Then, a growing sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of everything. Then there is only love.
And…then the monkey crashes in on a vine and tells me that so-and-so must think this-and-this of me so I should do that-and-that. Sigh.
So how to train the monkey? There are different traditions in Eastern religions, through focusing on breathing or on a phrase, and some people have their own ways to do it, like running or chopping firewood. I do wonder if some people just have naturally calmer monkeys.
But, back to the broke-down combine and getting some Headspace in the tractor. I press play on the app and a soothing English accent says a few words before having me focus on the sounds around me and on my breathing. The other combine roars past me (breathe in) and the CB radio squeals with the back-and-forth of the corn silage crew (breathe out). I smile at how ridiculous this might look and how only a few moments of deeper-focused breathing make life more amazing and less serious.
The English accent belongs to Andy Puddicombe, a mindfulness teacher and the founder of Headspace. He starts by talking about inner conflict, outer conflict and our shared human experience. What I take away is that by being more peaceful in my own life, I inevitably bring more peace into the world at large. Meditation isn’t just so I have a better day, but it contributes to everyone having a better day.
So here I am. Breathing in and breathing out, smiling as the radio squawks, sending love to the world and most especially to my two brothers huddled at the combine and the crew in the Premier truck that has now arrived.
A quiet mind is focused. I can pay more attention to what’s going on around me and, when driving equipment, that’s a very good thing.
A quiet mind is lighter. It means dropping the mental baggage of the past and the present that I bring with me each day. I can take a joke better and I don’t beat myself up for little mistakes.
A quiet mind notices; everything is a gift. It is presents, oops, I meant to write presence.
My eyes open after a few minutes and I pull the tractor around to catch some more beans. It feels different now. My sister-in-law crosses the field with the minivan, filled with three adorable (maybe screaming) kids and dinners for us. And coffee. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
The second combine thunders back to life as a full moon peeks over the horizon. As I gun it across the field, this time I focus on taking deep breaths and it’s as if the monkey sits quietly in the buddy seat looking out the window.
The moon is huge and pale, illuminating the prickly branches of long-dead trees along a fencerow. Hauntingly beautiful. To think I might have missed it. ◊