Costa Rica is known for its diverse and rare wildlife, so we figured this would be one the best areas to focus our energy while spending time here. Our first landing in the country consisted of exploring trails in the jungles and cloud forests of Santa Elena near the Monteverde region. On our first excursion into the jungle we were trekking at our normal pace, when we realized quickly that we would have to slow down and even sit still in one place for a period of time if we wanted to see anything. When we sat still for long enough the jungle came alive. The leaves began to rustle. The birds became louder, and more species began to talk. I whispered to Karl in excitement, “Hey, this is kind of like meditation. If you sit still quietly for long enough, the jungle (of the mind) comes alive… but it’s been there all along!”
The jungle of the mind is ever lively and alive. Most of us have become so used to its liveliness, that we no longer notice all of its activity. The activity has become the foreground and the background, and we cannot see the jungle for the trees. If we sit still for long enough we will likely have perceptions about the things that come alive. “Oh no! It’s a snake!” we exclaim. Then we try to figure out how to get rid of it. Though, as we look more closely we see that it is actually the root of a tree branch in our path. Now we are joyful and relieved. We laugh at our misperception as we make our way past the root. This is a popular analogy in Indian epistemology and Buddhist philosophy, when a monk at twilight mistakes a coiled rope for a snake in his path. He realizes the ignorance of the perceptions of the mind and finds enlightenment.
Becoming a watchful observer of our own thoughts, feelings and perceptions can be as challenging as carving out our own path with a machete in the thickness of the jungle. Gratefully, there are many solutions to taming the jungle of the mind. One of them is meditation, which can help slow us down enough to learn how to “be in the jungle, but not of it.” Another is simply slowing down and connecting with our surroundings. In many ways, our trip and the experiences we have had, have forced me to slow my normal pace and processes down. As a result, I’ve come to realize that if I want to connect more deeply with the wildness and richness that life has to offer, I will benefit greatly from returning to the watchful observer as often as I see snakes.