Faith Matters: How to still the muddy waters of overthinking: Clarity, peace and God can be found in the quiet spaces

The Rev. Cindy LaJoy in the Athol Congregational Church.

The Rev. Cindy LaJoy in the Athol Congregational Church. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By THE REV. CINDY LAJOY

Community Outreach Pastor,Athol Congregational Church

Published: 04-12-2024 10:43 AM

Have you ever walked through a season of your life where, no matter how hard you tried, you were unable to see your way through to the “other side?” Maybe you have been anxious for months about a major decision you need to make, but despite your efforts to look at all angles and to weigh all imaginable outcomes, your answer is still not obvious.

All of us have found ourselves in those shoes from time to time, worrying that we will make the wrong choice and have enormous regrets later. We simmer for days …weeks … months … growing ever more frustrated as we try, in vain, to force ourselves into making a final decision that we feel comfortable with. Aggravation increases, and actually serves to push insight ever-further away so that the elusive answer remains just out of reach.

Patience is taught by virtually every major world religion, along with learning to still our minds so we can tap the well of wisdom deep within our soul-selves. This part of us knows things, if only we can be patient and quiet long enough to identify and digest this knowing.

Meditation, as well as more traditional prayer, helps us tap this well of wisdom and awareness we each carry around with us. Christianity teaches us in Psalm 46:10 to, “Be still and know I am God,” and in the famous 23rd Psalm we are reminded that God will “lead us beside still waters, He restoreth my soul.”

Zen master, Nakagawa Soen Roshi, taught how to still the mind when he shared, “When holding a pot of water, how to make still? Not by shaking – just hold carefully and let settle.” And Lao Tzu explained from the Taoist perspective, “Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear?”

When we can finally manage to calm our mind, it is shocking how quickly our mind can perceive correct answers and directions. It is when we “muddy the waters” by overthinking and over-analyzing that we, ourselves, create the murkiness that hides the hidden truth we need to find.

Getting out of our own heads may be the single most difficult task we ever face. The running inner-commentator we all carry around with us can be so loud sometimes, and finding ways to quiet our minds can be a huge challenge, particularly in our 21st century noisy lives. How else might we calm the inner voice so we can hear the True Voice within?

Many people associate meditation or prayer with sitting in a traditional position with incense and singing bowls surrounding us, and many people have been taught to “do” prayer by folding your hands and internally having a conversation with God. But there are as many ways of quieting our minds as there are people, and there is no right way to do it. Some folks use instrumental music to help them refocus and calm their minds, others will use visual meditation with videos online of geometric tunnels or repetitive patterns to slow the mental churning. Another method that works well for many is walking meditation, whether in a labyrinth or just strolling peacefully through your own neighborhood or a local park. Doing any kind of repetitive task can free your mind from perseverating around a problem, and still the muddy waters of thought.

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The importance of quieting our thoughts can’t be over-stated, for that is when the spark of understanding arrives. That muddy water can’t reveal to us what we most need to see clearly, and the roiling waters only serve to further confound us. If you are seeking clarity, God can be found in the quiet spaces, and peace in our hearts can be experienced with intentional inaction. So if you are pondering a difficult situation remind yourself of this: Be still … and know.

Athol Congregational Church, UCC, is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” We celebrate in-person worship as well as offer Facebook livestream services under “Athol Congregational Videos.” Our pastors and members are available for conversation on our Athol Congregational Church Facebook page, and through private messages. We would love to connect! We offer long-distance Reiki through our certified practitioners, are willing to pray with you, and want to know you, whoever you are. We are located at 1225 Chestnut Street in Athol, and can be reached at 978-249-6202.