I was writing an email to a dear friend recently and acknowledged, somewhat ruefully, that my mind has been spinning in circles lately. By way of illustration, I typed out the several things at the top of my mind. When I saw it all written down, I started to laugh. It seemed comical all of a sudden, and repetitive, and impossibly mundane. Like a boring and familiar grocery list of the things which come up again and again.
The friend wrote back and offered me a mental exercise: imagine a container, she said. Imagine every detail, where it's placed, what it looks like, everything about it. And then take all of these recurring worries and put them in the container and close the lid. You're not ignoring them; you're putting them away for safekeeping. You can think about them later. When she first did this, she told me, the container she pictured was a teapot.
I was immediately charmed by the mental image of stashing away one's worries in a teapot. Like graciously inviting a genie to return to its lamp. Not forever; just for now. Usually "a tempest in a teapot" means something minor which has been exaggerated out of all proportion. And who knows, my recurring worries may fit that bill. But I like the idea of being able to shrink my internal tempests and tuck them away somewhere safe. (Perhaps the teapot is bigger on the inside.)
I read recently that the goal of meditation isn't to "silence" the mind, but to attune oneself to its chatter. I know this to be true, and yet it's always good to be reminded. Thinking thoughts is the mind's job. Of course the mind is always abuzz. Thoughts, reminders, to-do lists, memories, regrets, anticipations, hopes, yesterdays, tomorrows. When I sit still and let myself notice what arises in me, then I can begin the work of relating to myself gently, with compassion, without judgement.
And sometimes, when my mind just keeps yammering about the same subset of things, I think I may try to open up the teapot and gently pour those things inside. I imagine myself saying, "Yes, work deadline, I see you there. Yes, upcoming travel, I see you there. Yes, concern for a loved one, I see you there. You have made your presence known and I acknowledge you. Now it's time for you to go into this teapot so that I can enjoy the now, instead of listening to your clamor about later."
If I were going to pour my tempest into a literal teapot, this would be a good one -- it is made of cast iron and seems pretty indestructible.