One of my goals this year is to learn how to meditate. Particularly, for the reason that I think I’ll really suck at it (and for all the physical and cognitive benefits, of course).
Exhibition no. 1: I came home today after a full day out and tried to mediate. I set my alarm clock for just 10 minutes of meditation, thinking that it shouldn’t be that bad. I closed my eyes. I started to take in long, slow inhales and deep, controlled exhales. My mind, focused on my breathing, is quiet for a few seconds. So far, so good. I feel calmer already. Inevitably though, my ever-reliable companion (my mind) kicks in. I think about the new pillowcases I got from Ikea yesterday and how nicely they match the colour of my couch. I recall where I put the receipt in case I need to return anything. For whatever reason, this reminds me of water, which gets me thinking about my day hanging out with friends at the lake. I think about the conversations I had with them, in particular, the part where I said I’ll send S a link about a band I like. I open my eyes and look for my laptop. I see it, am about to go get it, before remembering I’m supposed to be clearing my mind right now. Close ’em on up. Yup. Eyes closed. Keep going. Inhale, exhale. Back on track. Nice.
That, my friends, is just minute 1.
By the end of my 10-minute meditation session, I had drifted here and there, my thoughts taking a life of its own. I can’t even tell you what I thought about, because I have no friggin’ clue. I do know though, that I probably meditated for about 20% of the time, with the rest of the time, having no control over what I thought about and when. And that right there – is exactly the reason why I want to learn to meditate.
Coming from a “doing” culture, where activities and tasks are largely emphasized over merely “being”, “time is money!”, as the saying goes. Yet, “being” is very attractive to me, for precisely the reason that I struggle so much with not doing. It is often right before bed, that I realize that a full day has passed where there was not a single moment where I really stopped to reflect on where I was and what I was doing. Too often, I’m caught in my head – the often positive, though sometimes negative internal narrative that goes round and round. If I were to write down all the thoughts that stream through my mind, I’d probably be bored to death. In the parts of the day where I am not actively thinking or working (e.g. washing the dishes, walking to the bus stop, etc.), I’m pretty sure my thoughts run similar to a broken record – repeating the same song over and over again.
I’ll give you an example. A few months ago, I went through a stressful situation with my living arrangement. In the beginning of this stressful time, my active thought process was extremely useful, in that it helped me reflect on what I was feeling and more importantly, why I was feeling that way. Getting this clarity was crucial to figuring out what I needed to do to change the situation – which in my case, was to find a new apartment and move out. The problem is, after I figured out my feelings and laid out my action plan, there was really no need to dwell upon this issue anymore (I just needed to act). That’s when my thoughts (and the accompanying scenes that I replayed again and again) became really annoying. Not only did it increase the level of stress and frustration I felt, it also never gave me a mental break from thinking about the situation. This, in turn, detracted me from enjoying the present moment, no matter how pleasant or engaging it was. All of this, of course, led me to feel slightly more insane. It was only when my external circumstances changed (i.e. success in finding a new apartment), that my stress level decreased and I started to feel like myself again. Knowing how to meditate, would have come in handy here – plainly put, it would have given me a much-needed break from myself. A single quote from Eckhart Tolle pretty much sums this up:“happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.”
While my dream to become a meditation guru, legs crossed, floating peacefully on a fluffy, creamy white cloud is far from reality, I will continue with my 10-minute meditation sessions, holding off on my own judgement with regards to the ‘success’ of my meditation process. Though, at this point, I might as well call it what it is – “sitting”. As Cynthia MacKenzie says in her guided meditation tape (in response to peoples’ (typically) high expectations of meditation and what it should do for them): “Sitting is sitting. What could you get wrong with sitting?”