It’s 2020: Move Until Your Mind Is Clear.
For an early afternoon in January along the Front Range, the air is unusually warm.
The sky above seems to hold it all in place, an open dome where only the occasional airplane trail mars the otherwise seamless, soothing blue expanse. The hilly terrain characteristically undulates due to a nearby fault line that thrust these crumbly sandstone layers skyward, then buckled them like a bunched rug into a rocky carpet of lithosphere.
Sparse plant life clings to these rocky ledges and small basins, such as juniper, ponderosa pine, scrub oak, and prickly pear, prickling through a light snow dusting that dots the pink rock outcroppings that enclose the scene, not the deep snow that so often collects up in the winter, but tiny hairline tufts piled toe-high.
Taking it in as a silent witness sitting cross-legged on a slightly off-trail ridge at 6200 feet, I quietly observe, with mindful breath and heart-opening appreciation, the wide-angle view from a deeper place within.
It seems people gravitate toward crawling, climbing, bouldering, and tussling with steep grades, thick ground cover, and shaky footing, to achieve a vista, to get a bird’s eye view, to reach new heights, to be made aware from auspicious vantage points, to be subsumed into a larger context.
Maybe it goes back to our Savannah days of wild foraging, hunting, searching out new resources not for entertainment value, but out of the sheer need to survive.
Maybe it’s a spiritual instinct to enter this higher dimension, very much guided by the same impulse that draws us into tracing the vertical axis of an elongated cross made of pastel stained-glass reflecting splinters of pink, teal, and soft yellow through filtered sunlight behind the alter at a Catholic monastery’s chapel.
We ache to transcend everyday concerns, obstinate reality made of hard materials, limited parameters, and ordinary consciousness. Occasionally transcendence blissfully happens spontaneously, more often a little meditation and mind-training is useful to coax and catalyze it into being, conspiring with the psyche’s inner capacity for spaciousness and clarity.
To confess, I was plagued by petty obsessions the first hour of hiking, little eddies of thought that prickled like thorns in the mind, swarmed like gnats of inner life, but this is how it goes: there is nothing wrong with what’s naturally happening when we begin,it’s part of the introductory process of induction that, by now, I am learning more and more how to actively wield.
Slightly bothered by the droves of open space park-goers that cluttered the trail and cramped my style, I veered off, climbed high, and decided to formally meditate.
As time slowed and I settled, eyes fluttered open renewed, to be greeted by the sight of more than a dozen tiny moving dots in this great bowl of earth, some walking, some mountain-biking, their fat, black tires slowly trudging along whose riders have covered their soft, vulnerable bodies head-to-toe in outerwear, one walking a horse.
This bowl that many people, people I don’t know, have worked hard to preserve and prevent development on, now a playground for explorers of nature, outdoorsy types, a bowl for recreation. Recreation. The word is said softly aloud, held on the tongue, toyed with. I wonder if recreation is re-creation, if so, what do all of these excursionists re-create? Words smith or sleuth. My mind begins to play.
Perhaps this factors as one of my impulses to finally, at long last, write. It hounds me, harasses me. It pesters me late into the night: to transmit, to teach, to instruct those curious souls concerning the elusive pathway into the sacred. At the very least, I have more of a handle on it than when I began. I have no clue as to how far along I am on the total journey.
Perhaps in a grander scheme of things, the methods I practice, the ones that tap into deeper pulses of energy and that expand my concerns to encompass larger matters will be seen as rough and rudimentary. But then again, I take this as a very good sign indeed, as the best we can hope for is that we are processing life experiences in such a way that the process moves us along.
Is there ever any endpoint to this wildly creative, evolutionary cosmos that generates and destroys forms upon forms upon forms in progressive cycles of increasing complexity? Let me drop into this discovery as it operates at precisely this Now Moment that I practice, utilize, and learn to harness with greater dexterity, lest I take it for granted as an access point available for all.
The first thing I do, and sometimes I have to sort of will it to happen, using mental force, slicing through with a sharp, clean blade, is to empty my mind. And I mean completely. Entirely. Thoroughly. Every last morsel. With a scrub brush and clarifying water.
Even if nothing in my world is particularly bothersome, holding emotional charge or tension, even if there are no pressing decisions to be made, nothing in particular to sort out, figure out, work through. But most especially if there is.
Because let’s face it: much of our mental processes can get snagged by and ensnared into preoccupations of all kinds. Now clearing the mind seems easy and it’s what almost every meditative tradition teaches with long-standing, tried-and-true methods. The fresh air helps and all, but thinking can get very sticky, loopy, and repetitive.
Our circuitry, especially when not regularly cleansed, can turn into rather intense pooling of thoughts that have incredible staying power, so much so they develop as autonomous engines that keep on running, churning out, working hard, even when we’ve moved on, or the day has carried us along to meet and greet other experiences, adventures, encounters.
At that point when we perhaps don’t even realize it, we’ve absolutely lost control of ourselves.
It’s quite obvious that clearing the mind might be a beneficial tool, if only we could actually learn this most important of interior skills, when there are troublesome situations going on and the mind is cloudy, busy, agitated, or worried, which, when, say, hiking with a companionable friend, inevitably become, if you’re both not exceedingly intentional, the unconscious topics of discussion that can be so consuming you two miss the rivulets that are collecting up on a ruddy trail that a warming, post-solstice sun fosters, or completely overlook the cluster of perched boulders where a circular enclave of sunlight opens up at their base due to how they naturally fell together some maybe 9000 years ago, or let the mountain lion remain totally obscure that, high up amongst rocky caves, peers out with single-minded intelligence on very clueless people.
But it’s the smaller cogitations that keep exhausting mental resources in dim backrooms of consciousness that are the real insidious culprits of a divided self, a self disconnected from deeper sources of instinct, wisdom, peace, and contentment that I am really after, for, being barely audible, commit some of the worst crimes in the name of distraction and drain.
So, I religiously practice the mind-clearing. Just to see what happens when all is washed away, even if I barely know what it even is that dissolves and disappears as I feed it into the void.
Because after many years of approaching this obliquely, of following the blind impulse to forms of moving meditation, of grasping the method only opaquely and through a kind of intuitive, trial-and-error, self-generating means of practice, I’ve detected the faint outlines of a pattern that, should it be successful, grants a magnificent clearing that opens up before the practitioner, parting the veil, soothing the soul, and revealing that we can meet unfolding life on its own terms as things arise, without so much uptight, anxious constriction, which reveals our unconscious predilection for control.
This is release from that side of us that actively shapes, forges, imposes, directs, out of which we reshaped Nature into Civilization: it is giving ourselves over to our other, rather neglected, side where floooowww predominates over figuring out and forming plans, where synch is possible between all that you are and all that surrounds, usually severed as you usually separate yourself out to laboriously create a social and material identity.
In this moment of the collapse of ordinary mind, you are distilled as it were, and all that remains are these very local experiences that occur on this little swath of land that you occupy, with a few strangers with whom you exchange a thing or two, as you commune with this short-lived but strengthening January sun, on this rock you sit on that cools your thighs and backside, as you breathe the scent of juniper, dust, and faint wisps of your own sweat.
This is a new kind of embodiment, a new synthesis of threads weaving together mind and body, weaving together self and surroundings, weaving together the instinctual self and the higher self. And let me tell you, the rush of joy, the ecstatic upsurge, the wondrous, giddy happiness, the curiosities, the open, wild, free spirit, that unleashes when the synch is made!
I am plugged into a deep matrix, a long lineage, the rich tradition of inspired women joining the likes of Maria twirling in her pleated dress, in her singular Swiss Alpine soiree of the wild, open heart singing the hills are alive with the sound of music! And having nothing in this hour that needed pertinent attending, a few things naturally came together of their own accord, in-forming me.
These things delighted me as I didn’t needily require them, they were natural occurrences that sprang from a more intelligent mind plugged in, tuned in, emptied of its usual chaos, confusions, and clutter.
Given the pace of our contemporary, urban lives, perhaps these meditative practices will soon come to be called upon more fervently and urgently, to counterbalance, to correct, and to compensate for our driven, scheduled, achievement-oriented natures supported, rewarded, and culturally reinforced.
This walk is simple, steady, singular, each step a ritualistic self-emptying, until, until, the grace descends and natural goodness fills my heart.
The only focus of this moving meditation is deliberate, plodding steps shaped to music in my airwaves, a welcoming of, and presence to, the bodily sensations that come from hard exertions, a pounding heart, the ache of my back as my pack is yet again weighed down with too many books, notepads, pens, sticks of incense, and rocks containing large quartz crystals, the sweat beads that are forming around the base of my neck where my waist-length hair meets my scalp.
Heat transfers from tangles of the mind to distributing through the body where it originally belongs, soon to ascend once more through the subtle body’s spine in an outpouring of fertile imagination, inspiration, and wild enthusiasms. But not yet. Back to careful, committed, concentrated plodding.
I tune myself as an instrument of aliveness by clearing any excess or errant energies that occlude deeply connecting with unfolding, present-moment experience; in so doing, we engage what’s just in front of us with our whole selves.
Once calibrated, a different type of consciousness altogether springs to life instantaneously, emerging with the lines I can see clearly now, the rain has gone, I can see all obstacles in my way, gone are the dark clouds that had me blind, it’s going to be a bright, bright, bright sunshiny day. There’s much more that happens in this resonance and reminiscence of a simpler way to be.
I can no longer keep it to myself, the beauty or the magic that is, transpiring when mind is entrained with the field energies when it seeks solitude in secret, uncontaminated places.
Emptying the mind must, then, reestablish a proper, productive flow of information, a gentle corrective as in ya know you’re really spinning your wheels, my dear, let me take over the reins for a bit… What a typical secret: most of the time we get in our own way of this organic, self-making, spontaneous way of being human, this natural process of life development. It’s no wonder.
This emptying of the mind is an un-learning we have to go through which is more difficult than acquiring.
Trust is inspired, deep, wholesome trust, to know that deeper mind is ordered, well-organized, having your best interest always in the gaze of its watchful eye, containing plans of its own that flirt with what’s bound up with far-flung fates.
Deeper mind is light years ahead of what’s slowly dawning upon you. You’ll always be playing catch-up because right now it’s working on what might be delivered to you in 2024 because the planets are already in motion. Can’t stop what’s coming, can’t stop what’s on its way.
When you release into trust, when you relent, when you get on board, when you coordinate with this deep knowing, working with it rather than fighting it, it directs, it guides, it provides, it prods you into healthy directions, into greater alignment between who you really are and how you can express this nature of yours in this complicated, congested world, it wants to grow you as an organism through the means of challenging pursuits, it wants to chisel out your strongest, most vital form through the relentless pulsing of its will to live in its maximal, fullest, blossoming form.
This is what I would name as the incredibly powerful life force, far more powerful than what we come up with in terms of our relatively pitiable intentions, goals, and minor plans. The life force is so old we cannot really fathom it, except in the abstraction of number and thought.
I sometimes try to contemplate how old it is. I am flummoxed even by just how long ago it was when our great, great, great, great aunt died in 1900, as my genealogy-crazed sister told me about just yesterday. That’s a grain of sand on a beach, a drop of saline water in the Pacific, a cell in my body, compared to how old, deep, and well-rooted the life force is in the substratum of our being.
I speculate all of this because it is fun and full of interest, and also because I suspect that it is this, the life force, that I synch with when I empty my mind on the trail.
Now I walk in this moving meditation in early January, but moving meditation can be dropped into in a variety of ways, while in a kayak, for instance, or, the way it all got started: on a bicycle. As I sit and write, a punky, emo, hipster band of misfits arrive at the café by rollerblades. They are united in a shared means of locomotion and they look cheerful and fulfilled, so much the scene draws me in.
I envision emptying mind by rollerblading, the smooth feel of pavement being kicked out left, then right, then left again, as you sail over cement methodically and melodically. There is infinite variety. Variations on the same basic theme. Theirs is a pleasant, social activity. And what I describe is between only you and, what we might call as a convenient shorthand, God.
So, I recommend practicing alone. Socializing has its place. But you’re going to be too distracted, too comforted, too insulated in the sphere and nexus of social influence, to really do this work as I’ve said, thoroughly, cleanly, exhaustively.
Trust me on this one. It might feel uncomfortable at first. Or scary. I get it. You on the edge of life, facing the storms that form on the horizon with only your wits, your attitude, and 20 pounds of gear on your back. Seven miles from the trailhead. Hope I packed those hand-warmer packet thingies this time.
I say this because single-handedly these excursions by foot, by kayak, by bike, have functioned as the primary vehicles of an ongoing, self-sustaining transformation. There, in the wilds, on the fringelands, in the margins, without the daily conditions by which we are weakened and buffeted, you have a chance to do battle with your mind directly.
You have a chance to open to a direct, unmediated encounter with primal forces, with awe and dread-inspiring elemental forces, baked under the big, hard sun. You have a chance of making something of yourself. There, your inner self is called into the ring.
I tally it up: it’s been almost 10 years now of engaging this formal means of practice, so I see into what was stirred into writing as a celebration of an anniversary, but also as an emerging calling, as a duty to protect, nurture, and nourish these secret, sacred places.
Walk, ride, move until your mind is clear. It’s 2020. About time to see clearly now.
Sarah McKelvey is a free spirit who enjoys introspecting, speculating, and writing about life, love, synchronistic experiences, identity, psyche, self-cultivation, and her various misadventures. She typically writes in the context of traveling, and is informed by Eastern wisdom traditions, depth psychology, and the iconoclastic teachings of Alan Watts. Words are her favorite medium. In her pursuits, she pursues truth, beauty, and goodness, and hopes to, through her endeavors and writing, promote a life-affirming attitude that belongs on the spectrum of love. She lives along the Front Range outside of Denver, and practices psychotherapy professionally.