A Wandering Mind

The sixth line of St. Romuald’s Brief Rule reads: “And if your mind wanders when you read, do not give up, hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.”

My translation is close: “And if you mind wanders when you read (and it will), do not give up; hurry back and attend to the words once again.” When I first translated the rule, I wrote “…when your mind wonders…”. I like the idea of allowing my mind to wonder; to reading something slow enough that my mind has the space to be surprised. But when I realized my mistake, I crossed through the word ‘wonder’ and wrote above it ‘wander’. I like that idea too, having enough time and space when I read to allow my mind to wander wherever the Spirit leads. But I don’t think Romuald was talking about Spirit-led wandering. Instead he was talking about ‘monkey mind,’ when are thoughts are bouncing all over the place and we can’t settle in and be attentive.

In practicing stillness, there is a lot of wandering for me. There are mornings that are filled with all the things I need to do, should have done, did wrong the day/week/month/year before, all the people I’ve hurt, all the stupid things I’ve said… and so on. A friend of mine calls this self-condemning, frenzy thinking ‘the committee’. She talks about how ‘the committee’ shows up when she’s trying to go to sleep and she can’t get calm, too much zooming from one thought to the other. Some morning are like that.

But the invitation of Romuald’s Rule is to let the wandering, the zooming, ‘the committee’-mind to be okay. Whether you are sitting in stillness or reading the Psalms, when you find yourself thinking about the kids, the groceries, the promotion that’s coming up – just came back (gently) to what you are doing and attend, as best you can, to the words before you or your breath. Every time you wander, as soon as you become aware, just come back and breath or read or simply sit.

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