“Could you send me the name of the wine you brought when you came for dinner the other night?” Ping. Back came an immediate response: “Canny Mind.” Gone are the days of wines being named after the vineyard, the land where the grapes are grown or the winemaker himself. Château Des Maures, Cloudy Bay and Baron de Rothschild, can all be found on the off-licence shelves, but many of today’s wines have hip and funky names like Chronic Cellars, Whiz Bang, Two Birds One Stone and Canny Mind. Or so I thought. I googled ‘Canny Mind’ but I couldn’t find it. Then the penny dropped – she hadn’t texted me the name of a bottle of wine, but was using informal text speak, the casual Ulster-Scots vernacular, telling me, ‘I canny/cannae mind’, or, in more prosaic English, ‘I cannot remember.’ Yet my canny mind fell for the literal meaning until I checked myself and adjusted my mental dictionary. This is precisely what the mind does when we are not canny: it blindfolds us and shuffles us up a one way street; bundles us down dark alleys; drives us along roads to nowhere in cars with comfortably heated seats and Karen Carpenter on the radio singing, ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ while we forget where it is we’re going. When we don’t ‘mind’ our mind – remembering that it is constantly playing tricks on us, and watchfully being the boss of it, as opposed to the other way around – then any little thing, even a two-word text message, can send you into a tailspin searching for something that doesn’t exist.
I was at a short mediation workshop the other day at which the teacher talked lots about what she interchangeably called ‘galloping horses mind’ and ‘wild monkey mind’. This, she said, is when our mind controls us, feeds our worries, our dreads and our fanciful notions. We let the mind be the boss of us, we can’t switch it off. Racing thoughts, one triggering another, then another and onwards on in a loop, become a complicated jigsaw that gets assembled and disassembled, pieces forced into spaces where they don’t fit, and edges get hacked off, until we get extremely hacked off. She spoke about how we pursue desires (both big and small) that that we think will make us feel better: ‘when I get that piece of the jigsaw, all will be well.’ Which is a difficult message to take on board, because, quite frankly, going out for a nice meal will make me feel better, going for a lovely holiday will almost certainly enhance my life, and getting the new mattress has made my sleep more comfortable. But I understood what she was saying: no other external material change will serve our long-term happiness better that a calm and canny mind. I know I’ll have made it when I can sit down to toast and coffee in the morning as though I’m breakfasting in The Ivy or head off down Princes Street to buy the Anita Brookner novel (next read for the book group) with the same mind-set I might have were I on a mid-winter break in Copenhagen and wandering along Strøget.
“Practice a little meditation and the mind will quieten,” she told us, which I have paraphrased as: a quiet mind is a canny mind. I discovered so many synonyms for ‘canny’ when I looked them up: careful, cautious, prudent, astute, shrewd, knowing, sagacious, skilled, expert. Some of those words don’t sound very exciting, but they do sound level and steady and even, and that’s attractive. I’m nowhere near there yet, so I can’t tell you if a canny/sage/still mind has space for excitement, but I rather bet it has.
Rumi: “Let go of your mind and then be mindful. Close your ears and listen!”