by Dr. Alberto Villoldo: When the mind starts to busy itself crafting a story about how we’ve been wronged…
or daydreaming about what our lives could be like if we could only find the right person or situation, we need to extinguish it. Earthkeepers do this through the practice of “no-mind.”
Practicing no-mind requires you to break free of your thoughts and get in touch with the sage within, who is beyond thoughts. You don’t have to spend hours upon hours in meditation to do this. When you become aware of how your mind foolishly jumps from thought to thought, you can sit quietly, amused by its activity. The parade of thoughts will continue, but you won’t get caught up in it. There will only be the sage.
Thus, you’ll be able to say, “There goes my mind, obsessing about how it believes I was wronged. That’s how my mind acts up when I’m feeling like a victim.” And then, a few moments later, you’ll forget that you’re the sage, and you’ll once again identify with the gymnastics of your mind. Then you’ll remember and inquire, “Who is it that was wronged?” and, “Who is asking the question?” You make the switch from identifying with the chatter to becoming the sage by asking questions such as, “Who is hurt?” “Who is angry?” and “Who is late to the office?”
What brings you home to the sage is always this: “Who is it that is asking the question?” The minute you ask yourself this, you break the trance and the mind dissolves. Only Spirit remains, because Spirit is the sage.
The chatter in our minds will only stop when the mind is extinguished. Until then, we can simply observe our thoughts, be amused by our “monkey mind,” and not identify with it. One day we’ll recognize that our genuine self, the sage, resides in the middle of the storm and is unaffected by all the commotion surrounding us―such as the fight with our spouse, the car breaking down, or the stomach ulcer acting up. And then the chaos around us subsides because we realize that it’s only a mirror of what’s going on in our minds. Slowly but unstoppably, the sage prevails, as the screen of our reality becomes a blank canvas for us to create and dream in.
You can’t “make up your mind” to step back and become the sage because once you do, the mind will vanish. . . and it knows it. So, in order to protect itself, the mind will tangle you up in all the reasons why you can’t do this practice. That’s why you can only discover the sage by inquiring, “Who is it that is asking the question”―or by ingesting powerful mind-altering substances. Under the influence of these hallucinogens, the mind dissolves, the ego melts away, and all that remains is Spirit tracking itself. However, these plants must only be used under the guidance of a master shaman so the user doesn’t become sidetracked or deluded by the experience. Otherwise, they can cause great harm.
I remember the first time I used the legendary ayahuasca in the Amazon. When you drink of this potion, you lose all sense of the ordinary self that identifies with your job, your roles, your family, and even your history. The following is a transcription of one of my first experiences with the ayahuasca, which appears in my book Dance of the Four Winds (written with Erik Jendresen):
I am moving. And breathing.
I move through a many-layered collage of wet leaves, hanging vines, reds, yellows, greens washed gray by moonlight. My head hangs low to the ground. Faster, I pant. The ground yields slightly beneath the pads of my . . . hands and feet? They move in cadence with the throbbing in my chest. My breath is hot and humid; my heart beats too fast, and I can smell myself beyond the moist tangle of the jungle.
There is a clearing, and there am I, sitting cross-legged, naked, and shining wet in the moonlight. My head is thrown back and my throat is taut, exposed. Arms thrown out lax to my sides, hands palm up on the soil.
I watch myself from the edge of the jungle, still but for my breathing. Behind me, the jungle stirs sleeplessly.
I move with the lithesomeness of a shadow, following the contours of the clearing’s edge to circle my prey.
Now we are breathing together. My head falls forward. My chin touches my chest. I raise my head, open my eyes to stare into yellow cat eyes, my eyes, animal eyes. A half-breath catches in my throat, and I reach out and touch the face of the jungle cat.
After many years of meditation, and after a decade of training with the medicine plants of the Amazon, I discovered that I didn’t need external devices to discover the sage that has always existed. He was there before my body was born; after all, I am not my body―I only inhabit it―and the sage will be there long after my body returns to the earth.
The following exercise will help you to discover, or rediscover, the sage inside of you.
Exercise: The Query
Sit comfortably in your favorite chair and dim the lights in the room. Light a candle if you wish, but make sure that you’re in an absolutely quiet place because you want to listen to the chatter of your mind. Close your eyes and begin to take deep, regular breaths . . . count your breaths from one to ten, and then start at one again.
After a few minutes, you may notice that you’re counting up to 27 or 35, as the mind becomes absorbed with what you need to do later in the evening, what you failed to do at work, or how upset you are with someone. Or perhaps there’s a tune playing inside your head (once while at a meditation retreat, I had the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” stuck in my head for an entire week!).
Bring yourself back to counting your breaths. Now ask yourself, “Who is angry?” “Who is late?” “Who is breathing?” and then, “Who is it that is asking the question?” Be still and observe what happens when you ask this.
Try to make this query regularly throughout the day, even if you’re not sitting in meditation. The more the sage rises to the forefront of your awareness, the longer she’ll remain in residence. The sage will shift you out of your serpent awareness into eagle so that you become conscious of the great blank canvas of creation, along with your power to dream it into a world of beauty and grace.