OK, so you have your environment relatively under control and have cleared the time in your schedule. I’ll bet you money the first thing you notice is that your mind is going a mile a minute. How could you have handled that stressful conversation better? What needs to go on the grocery list? How much your job bores you. If the weather will cooperate for your weekend plans. And on and on and on. Buddhists call this “monkey mind,” and the incessant chatter of the brain is something that will need to be dealt with before you can get down to Listening.
Our culture glorifies the mind at the expense of all else. Just look at how jobs are valued; an office worker who mainly uses their brain and a laborer who mainly uses their body. Both can be essential jobs to society, but who’s making more money? Look at how we spin our mental wheels with entertainment and the internet and social media, as our bodies get less and less healthy. (Oh yes, I am in this category too, though I am trying to do better!) We let our brains run everything, ignoring our bodies, our hearts, and our spirits. This means that when we actually want to turn it OFF for a bit, it puts up a helluva fight.
I use my brain to great effect every day, but sometimes I just want it to shut up! When my mind seizes a thought and just runs it over and over without making any real progress, I call this my hamster wheel. The best way for me to get that hamster to chill out is to journal. It’s almost magical, the way that writing about whatever is going on in my head quiets the frenzy, gives me a feeling of control over the matter, lets me make the intangible a little more concrete. I’m a word person, but I would think other creative practices would work just as well. Write it out, draw it out, sing it out, talk about it with a confidante, basketweave, whatever! Expressing it in whatever way works for you will still the mind.
Exercise is a great tool as well. Go for a walk or a bike ride or whatever you like best. I faintly recall reading somewhere that the brain just can’t keep up the monkey mind at the same time as actively moving the body; it was a hard-wiring thing. So let exercise move the busy-ness from mind to limbs. Fresh air, if you can get it, also seems to help clear out the shenanigans and leave a clean slate.
Perhaps I should have posted this before the external factors, as it seems like when you put the pieces together you’ll likely need to use some of these tools first. Ah well, such is writing on the fly! Do what works best for you.