Imagine you wake up and find yourself in a maze. There are several paths ahead of you. Feeling no rush, you decide to go ahead and explore of it as much as you can. As you wander, you find that each pathway changes the types of thoughts and sensations that appear in your mind. Certain paths activate your vivid imagination. Others bring your life’s embarrassments to mind. You find that certain paths are extremely enjoyable to walk through, activating pleasant memories of someone you love or the ability to live and enjoy the present moment. While you enjoy spending time in these parts of the maze, somehow you always find yourself wandering away. Somehow, you find yourself walking the pathways that activate insecurities, your bodily pains, and all your visceral fears.
But you never stick to any one direction. For there is another trick to the maze. At any point, it can spontaneously transport you into another path without you realizing. One thought is suddenly replaced by another. The sounds of a barking dog by a pain in your hand; or the sight of a tree by the thought of the mysterious nature of the universe itself. Sometimes you realize what just happened. If the thought you were thinking was interesting enough, you can transport back to the location you came from and continue down that path. But all too often, you disappear from it without remembering at all.
One day you happen across a book in the maze. It contains a dusty map and a user guide. Deciding it’s probably worth reading, you try to get through it. It takes time and attention, but you make progress while wandering about. Many times, you misplace the book in one of the maze’s many turns. However, you always seem to eventually discover it again, determined this time to hold on harder. Determined to figure out the secrets to this world you find yourself in.
The book eventually teaches you how to teleport yourself above the maze to a room with a glass floor overlooking the maze – a bird’s eye view. Here, different pathways appear in view together and you are able to recognize the entrances to several pathways of thought. You can see those pathways dedicated to tactile sensation, pain, and discomfort. Then, there is the blurry jungle of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and desires; difficult to dissect.
At some point after staring down at the maze, you lose focus and are returned to some pathway in it. But when you remember the book and this new practice you can always teleport back up again. With time, this process becomes seamless.
The book also teaches you another skill. You are able to detect when you are about to be teleported before it happens. You can make a mental note of this without becoming sucked into this new pathway. You feel the entrances to this particular thoughts light up and beckon your approach. But now, the book has taught how you might avoid its call.
If you were stuck in such a maze, life without this book would be chaotic and at times unbearable. But this is similar to the state that people already live in. Your mind is a maze. Some parts you may have mapped, but much, much more of it is a complete mystery. Your unconscious takes you down rabbit holes which feel incredibly important, only then to place your attention somewhere completely different mere seconds later. This constantly occurs in your waking hours, almost always without you being aware of it. This is the normal state of consciousness.
In the maze, the book provides knowledge of how to teleport to the room observing the mind. In real life, mindfulness provides something similar – the opportunity to notice before diving into a train of thought. It allows you the capacity to consent to mind wandering. It creates a new appreciation for the manifestations of mind without being blinded by them. And when negative emotions strike and attempt to bend you to their will, mindfulness allows you an escape room. Here, you can understand the power and majesty of such emotions without being subservient to them. This is a great benefit of mindfulness and something I couldn’t help but notice in my time meditating.