As I formulated this week’s Challenge for Growth, I remembered an experience I had in 2001. I described it in one of my Getting to Joy books, a series about my years of being with Amma. While I still struggle with over thinking, this memory is etched into my mind. Recalling it whenever I’m into repetitive thinking gives me both pleasure and guidance. Here is that section of the book:
“Stay in the Present and Stop Thinking!”
I had planned to spend some time at Christ in the Desert monastery after attending Amma’s Santa Fe programs. As I started thinking about my upcoming monastery visit, I began to cry. The more I thought about it, the more I cried. Why did I have so much grief? Old questions arose once again. Was I supposed to be moving into an ashram [monastery]? Would I ever move into an ashram? I felt certain that now was not the time for ashram living, but how was I to deal with all of the sadness?
It occurred to me that I could discuss this situation with Amma. By then, it was past noon and she takes only a small number of questions each day, so I assumed that the quota for that day had long since been filled. Nevertheless, I felt drawn to check out my assumption. I was surprised to discover that Amma had not put any limit on the number of questions she would answer that day. Within a half-hour, I was sitting in front of her.
Through the translator, I told Amma how difficult it is for me to live a life that is not in an ashram, yet is not fully engaged in worldly activities either. I said I felt certain that it was not time for me to move into an ashram, and asked for her advice about how to deal with all of the grief I felt about being torn between these choices.
Amma indicated that there might eventually be an ashram in Seattle. For now, she said, I should remember that I am Amma’s child and that she is always with me. She then advised me to stay in the present and stop thinking! What could I do but laugh? Staying in the present and stopping unhelpful thought processes seems to be one of the major challenges of my life. I knew that over-thinking consistently pulls me into a downward spiral and that if I focus on what I have instead of what I do not have, it is much easier to stay in the present. I am also more likely to stay in a place of gratitude instead of moving into suffering. For some time thereafter, I used “Stay in the present and stop thinking” as a mantra whenever negative thought processes began. I found it to be a very effective technique in quieting my mind and shifting my focus.