Josna Rege

156. Just Empty your Mind

In 1900s, Family, Inter/Transnational, Stories, United States on July 31, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I’m remembering my dear mother-in-law Anna who, one morning more than five years ago, slipped away quietly, as if she wanted to cause the smallest possible disturbance. My father-in-law, who lives next door, awoke from his afternoon nap yesterday with a poem to her in his head and, fortunately managing to avoid interruptions (like Coleridge’s person from Porlock), set it down in writing before it too slipped away.

Anna had her full share of challenges, especially in the form of ill health in the last decade of her life, but through it all she maintained her equanimity and her characteristically sunny outlook. When people came to visit, intending to cheer her up, they found themselves pouring out their own troubles instead, while she listened with empathy and, if asked, gave sparing but always sound advice.

One day my mother and I were visiting Anna. I always got a kick out of seeing them together, because they were so different, both physically and in their personalities, my mother being small, fast-moving, and full of nervous energy, and Anna being large, placid, and calm. Yet they enjoyed each other’s company, admired each other’s strengths, and were wholly united in their motherly and grandmotherly love. That afternoon Mum was telling Anna about her anxiety, which was a perennial problem that caused her sleeplessness, headaches, and high blood pressure. She was a constitutional worrier, and although she realized intellectually that worrying did no good to her or anyone else, she felt unable to stop it.

Anna listened attentively as always, and then offered a remedy that worked for her: meditation. My in-laws had lived in Southern California for nearly twenty years before moving back to the East Coast for their retirement, and they had both embraced the best of New Age culture, especially a holistical approach to health and well-being. Now, Mum had a longstanding interest in meditation, having read just about everything by and about J. Krishnamurti and, more recently, having been drawn to Buddhist philosophy, but, always wary of organized belief systems, -isms of any kind, she had not been able to suspend her disbelief and translate her interest beyond the intellectual level into practice. So she asked Anna eagerly how she did it.

“It’s simple,” said my mother-in-law. “First, just empty your mind.”

Mum was incredulous. “Empty your mind?” she echoed, aghast at the very thought of it. “But how?”

But Anna couldn’t explain. For Mum, dispelling thought was unthinkable. For Anna, it was indeed simple: she had the gift of just being, and that Being shone through her and radiated all around.

I am by nature much more like my mother than my mother-in-law. But I know that despite appearances, Anna’s calm was hard-won. I can still learn to empty my mind and aspire to enter a state of Being, but not without sustained effort. It may be simple, but it isn’t easy.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. What a lovely tribute to a lovely woman. Just being in the same room with Anna was a calming and restorative experience. Write on, Jo! Xxoo

    • Thank you, Nancy. Yes. I will try to remember to feel that calm presence when I find myself getting into a stew, as I tend to do. Love, Jo xo

  2. Jo, this brought me to tears. What a lovely little dual portrait of these women. Their warmth, so distinct and so different from each other, radiated even to us outsiders who were lucky enough to encounter them.
    And yes: so simple; not easy.

    • Thank you, Ann. I’m glad that I was able to set down that memory of my two mothers together; it was rekindled when Ted sent me the poem that came to him during his daily afternoon nap. Here’s to our meeting this summer! I’ll be coming in to the Boston area this month, and still hope that you’ll be able to find your way out here one of these days and meet my parents again in person. x J

  3. that line rings the most in my mind – it maybe simple, but it isnt easy. so true. it is really difficult to do so…

    • Thank you for your comment, Roshan. Yes, one has to really want to clear one’s mind of the incessant chatter of thought, and at the same time not become too attached to that desire, so that one is able to let go. (And again, this is easier to talk about than to do!)

  4. This is SO good. “It may be simple, but it isn’t easy.” Thank you for this. (And thank you for leading me to your blog.)

    • Many thanks, Beth. It’s easy to coin the phrase as well, but consistently making the effort is much harder, and I can’t pretend to any higher wisdom, even at my advanced age. I’m grateful to Brian Sibley for having included By Word of Beth (and Tell Me Another), on his blog reading list.

      • Oh! I’ve been wondering how you found my blog! I’m delighted that it was Brian who brought us together. He is a joy — in exploring my blog, have you come across my interview with him, posted on June 20? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it:

        • I hadn’t seen it yet, Beth; thank you for the link. I’ve just read it and am blown away by his boundless energy and the way he exemplifies the rewards (and I wasn’t thinking of monetary ones) that come from doing what you love. I’m also moved that you reached out to him, and gave us all the gift of this interview. Out of timidity, perhaps, too many fans don’t speak their love to the object of their admiration, and that person never learns how much s/he means to them.

  5. […] Just Empty Your Mind […]

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