True confession: I have a checkered track record with meditation. I started meditating a long time ago when I went to visit a good friend who had been through a number of consecutive personal ordeals and swore she had survived by meditating. We sat and listened to a guided meditation for about 45 minutes every day while I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as I could tell, you just space out and keep coming back when the guy reminds you to. Back home, I decided to look into it a little deeper, “Maybe I should actually learn how to do this meditation thing for real.”
That was when the trouble began… “Am I supposed to close my eyes or keep them open? Hands on my knees or in my lap? Cross legged on a cushion or in a chair? What if you can’t cross your legs and sit for that long? What constitutes thinking, anyway? Is it thinking if I listen to the birds sing? Is it thinking if I watch the images in my mind? Are images thoughts? Oh god, I totally suck at this! How can anyone stop thinking???”.
I decided that I was not at all cut out for this meditation thing and that it was indeed a danger to my mental health. Well, I didn’t actually quit completely because I kept making secret little forays into meditating from different angles, at times practicing for months before stopping again. I finally told myself that my daily writing practice was a mindfulness practice and that was just going to be my form of meditation.
But I kept thinking that I should be sitting on the floor saying a mantra. Some sneaky gremlin had me convinced that because I was such a lousy meditator, I was actually only a pseudo spiritual person because any truly spiritual person wouldn’t be as bad at meditation as I was. It was supposed to be good for me dammit! Just like the vitamins on the window sill in the kitchen and the soy milk that was in my fridge which I never really liked. This went on for years…
This past weekend, after listening to yet another podcast where the interviewee talked about their meditation practice, I said “ok, fine, 10 minutes, starting tomorrow”, and I set a reminder alarm on my phone for every day into infinity and beyond.
Fortunately for me, tomorrow found me sitting on a ferry with nothing but reading material and my journal to distract me. I had no excuse. So I meditated… no big deal.
Day 2: I was all bunched up over something that had happened the night before that I needed to walk off, so out the window went the meditation plan. After a couple blocks, I realized that I could not solve the problem and it was tormenting me. “Damn, I should have sat my butt on the floor instead of going for a walk.” As quickly as that thought appeared in my overly anxious brain, I thought of the phone in my pocket and did a search for walking meditations. Ha, found! Thank you iTunes. “I am so clever…”
Within a few minutes I was breathing again. It was quite short so I listened to another one. And another… On I walked, listening and breathing, taking in the drippy new morning around me, letting go, letting go, letting go. 30 minutes later, I stuck my headphones in my pocket, and listened to the symphony of birdsong while the light rain dampened my face for the remainder of my walk.
Yesterday was the real test. No excuses… I made my 2/3 decaf, 1/3 caf latte and walked outside onto the porch. “I’ll meditate after this…” and then, “I wonder if there’s such a thing as a coffee drinking meditation?” A totally subversive little voice answered me, “Why not?”
“Because coffee and meditation do NOT go together!”
I drink coffee not for the buzz of the caffeine, but because the richness of the smell lures me, the creamy bitterness holds my attention, the feel of the softly rounded ceramic warms my hands, and the embrace of ease and luxury it offers is a beautiful way to begin the day. Its a tiny little indulgence just for me.
I sat down on the porch with the sun on my face and closed my eyes. My meditation lasted as long as the coffee. I sipped it. I breathed. I listened to the birds. I told my body that I was listening and I told my mind I was listening and if they had anything they needed to let me know about it was welcome. Thought amnesty… “olly olly oxen free”, originally, “all ye, all ye, all come free.” I giggled as I thought these words and then I listened again… It was quiet. My inner critic gremlins wouldn’t believe it. They started making noises. “You don’t have a quiet mind”. “I know, you’re right, I don’t, but at the moment its quiet so shut up.” And I waited for the noise to begin. The only noise was my breathing and the birds singing. A few times I wondered if listening to the birds sing constituted thinking, but I decided I didn’t care and I didn’t care if anyone else cared and returned to simply listening and breathing and feeling the sun on my face. Then the coffee was gone and the rain began.
What I may finally have learned was that I don’t need another “should” that my oh so nasty inner critic can abuse me with. It doesn’t need more ammunition. I realized that I had tricked it and that I can do it again by simply asking myself what I really want to do and then do it in a meditative way. Framed in this manner, meditation becomes a subversive act, and that is more powerful than anything my internal critic can throw at me.
My ten minutes (or however long it is), is time stolen from the press of responsibilities, the demands of home, dogs, family, the needs of the hundreds of people whose urgent emails fill my inbox, stealing time, for me, all for me… And that is radical!