I am a veteran fall-asleep-after-3-minutes meditator. I’ve got my technique down. A few deep breaths, clearing my mind, clearing my mind, inhale, exhale, inhale, ….20 minutes later I exhale with a snort! Ah,that was an excellent meditation. I find you need to get a good nap in before you meditate so you don’t fall asleep while meditating. Now I can get down to business.
I don’t really know if I am meditating right. Does anyone? Bueller? What does it actually mean to be a good meditator? I don’t think there is any one way or any one correct way. And what exactly are we supposed to be getting from the experience? Pema Chodron says, “We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.” I find that she is right, after I wake up from my nap of course.
I remember when I discovered the “voice” in my head when I was a kid – I thought I was crazy. I thought more might appear and I was doomed to the life of Sybil. I kept my voice secret thinking no one else had this constant companion “talking” to them incessantly. I thought it amounted to being like one of those kids who had an “imaginary friend”. And no one wants to be that kid. But no one ever tells you, unlike having an imaginary friend, that we all have that voice and certainly no one tells you that this voice isn’t always your buddy. That it can, if not controlled, wreak havoc in your life. That it doesn’t have your best interest at heart even when you think it does. That it can actually be your worst enemy. I told my kids about that voice. I also told them if it isn’t talking to you like its your best friend, then don’t believe it. That their job was to make it act that way. I dish out a lot of “advice” to my kids most of which goes in one ear and out the other but the one I hope sticks, the one that I wish someone had given me was, “Talk to yourself like you are your best friend.” The question: How exactly?
There is so much on our minds all the time. So many thoughts that swirl around competing for attention continually. Thoughts are constant. So if that is a given, then what do we do with all of them? As mentioned, a lot of them aren’t very nice to us on top of it. How can we slow them down a bit, make them a bit more friendly? How can we see our thoughts and emotions as transient, that they come in waves? How can we not take them so seriously, get so caught up in them or get pummeled by them? My answer: meditation. As Ringo Starr said about it, “At the end of the day, I can end up just totally wacky, because I’ve made mountains out of molehills. With meditation, I can keep them as molehills.”
Meditation is said to have numerous health benefits. Proven health benefits from actual doctors and scientists- not just from some Cat Stevens loving guru who travelled to India on a spiritual quest and came back to the West extolling the virtues of meditation. It isn’t just for the hippie dippie anymore. There is scientific evidence. Literature even. Not that I need it, I believe anything but for all the skeptics – there is plenty of facts to satisfy you if you know how to google. Meditation is credited for so many positive things how could we possibly not investigate it, participate? It is said to destroy cancer cells, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, lower depression, support weight loss, make you calmer, give you better sex drive – enough, I’m sold already! So if meditation is what I should do then meditation is what I am gonna do. I love myself that way. Back to the dilemma. How exactly? For me, this quote from Einstein, is what I go in with.
First after I wake up fully from my nap, I sit up straight and cross my legs into half lotus but criss cross applesauce or any other upright position that doesn’t cause you to end up in the Hospital for Special Surgery works. I have tried meditating in more comfortable positions but trust me, that just leads to daydreaming and “to do” list making. Feet on the floor works too. Straight but comfortable back is key. Then I concentrate on my breath again, this time without the fear of lulling to sleep overtaking me. This is where it gets tricky. This is where all those random thoughts start creeping in and you start playing inner whack-a-mole with them. “I need to call so and so.” “We need butter.” “What the hell is that dog barking at?” “No, really, what the hell is that dog barking at???” I’ve tried techniques where you let the thoughts float away like balloons in the sky and come back to “no-mind” or no-thoughts but what I find works best for me is counter thoughts. Basically, the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach. It is virtually impossible to not think so if I’m going to think, I’m going to concentrate on thoughts that benefit me, thoughts that uplift and inspire me. Or as Einstein puts it, your basic thoughts of God.
So there I am with all my thoughts and “problems” or places I am not feeling free and clear. Places that my nasty little voice is causing me stress, is bringing me down. For example, today I sat down outside and meditated on a particular situation. Something that has been causing me stress and confusion for some time. I just want some clarity on it and some release from thinking about it all the time, some space between it and me and of course, some de-stressing. This, I am giving you fair warning, as my sister M likes to say, is a “First World Problem”.
My 2 children and I inherited a beach house that is lovely to have but a money pit. It reminds me of those Dream Home giveaway shows where they producers realized that the people who actually won those homes could in no way afford to maintain them so they had to start throwing in a lot of cash too. That is my basic scenerio. Add on a lot of emotional ties to the house which is the only “thing” we have left of my husband and his parents who all passed away within 2 years of each other, and you have a small glimpse of my problem. Sell it or try to keep it? Rent it out, sell it? Fix it up, sell it? Back and forth, back and forth, trying to find a solution. I realize it is not Sophie’s Choice. Asking everyone, going through scenerios in my mind constantly- this, I know from experience, is NOT the way to solve a problem but to give myself an anxiety attack. But I seemingly have to go through this process of manical overthinking every time first before I sit down and forget all that and meditate on putting some space between it and me, meditate on taming my emotions a bit. Of loosening my attachment to whatever melodrama is unfolding at the moment. After the 100th time of running through the situation in your head you have to ask yourself, is this helpful? Do you feel freer? You have to go into meditation with the simple goal of wanting more peace of mind. You have to go in with the simple goal of just simply wanting that chatter to slow down and stop causing you so much angst. Simple goals but not so easy.
To me, Einstein says this perfectly. When I sit down to meditate on a problem or even without one, what I want is to let go of all the “details” of my problem or life and get to the juice – the “thoughts of God”. To let go of the details my mind wants to obsess over, to find a little space between those thoughts and me and find the peaceful thought instead. The thought I imagine God would rather me think. My best friend would have me think. What I want to realize is that my thoughts about my problem have gone loco and not get so caught up in them. As Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, says, “To attain true inner freedom, you must be able to objectively watch your problems instead of being lost in them…. Once you’ve made the commitment to free yourself of that scared person inside, you will notice that there is a clear decision point at which your growth takes place.”
Meditation does just that. It helps you separate yourself from your problems which most of the time are your thoughts about your problems. It helps you see that you aren’t those scared and negative thoughts, that you aren’t tethered to them. And if you aren’t tethered to them, you can actually change them. To better ones. To ones that serve you better. To ones that your best friend would want for you. It helps you actually become aware of this, become mindful of this and once you get a taste of it, you will keep seeking it. You will keep seeking that freedom because it feels like home and you realize you were just riding the train to Crazytown.
Deep inner peace is really just a calmer, more sane thought away or a non-thought away when I can manage it. Sitting down into meditation and boom! going into no thought is powerful if you can do it – maybe if I was a Buddist Monk living in abbey all day with nothing to do but practice then I could master it. But for now, as a busy mom living in suburbia, I meditate by asking – not for no thoughts but for better thoughts, for slowing down my internal chatter so that there is space for a solution to be revealed to me or for allowing space for living in ambiguity for the moment. But above all, for finding peace in my mind no matter what the situation. It’s a sort of mind training away from thoughts that are negative and fear based and which absolutely do not serve me, to ones that do. We all have a mind and can work with it. We can harness the potential we have there. We don’t have to let it always board that train.
As Jill Bolte Taylor says, “Tend the garden of your mind.” Isn’t that beautiful? Meditating is doing just that. Taking time to tend the garden of your mind. Pull out the weeds so beautiful flowers have room to grow. Meditation helps me be more be awake in my life, more mindful, to move through it calmer and less controlled by the voice in my head. It helps me respond to life instead of always reacting to it. It has changed that voice from one who was neurotic and out of control to one that is “for” me not “against” me. It has lightened things up considerably in there! It reminds me that life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.
Slowy, as I sit, as my breathing deepens, my body relaxes, I feel lighter, my thoughts slow, my internal chatter slows and I become “aware” of my thoughts. On good days, I can get to a place where I can just be, where my thoughts seem separate from “me”. Where I can look at them without any emotional charge behind them. As if they are just things that I’m not attached to in any way. I don’t take them personally. Negative or positive – they are just waves that come and go. I get to a place Buddhist’s call “satori” – a moment of zen. A glimpse of what is possible. A moment of presence. I love those days but they don’t always happen and that’s ok too. Meditation expects nothing. It isn’t a race, you don’t win or lose. You just practice realizing there is no finish line. No destination. You just sit down with no expectations and you stand up with no criticism. You just let it be what it is each time you sit down but you sit down again and again and again. If nothing else, you get how humbling it is by the sheer difficulty of sitting still, of trying to quiet the voice in your head and that alone is progress. That alone is awakening to something very powerful. When you get a glimpse of what your mind is actually doing all the time, when you get a real close and intimate look at it – that is very powerful thing to notice.
Taking the time to meditate is the single most beneficial thing I do for myself, I do for those around me and for the world at large because only a healed mind can heal the world. And your mind needs a break, it needs to be told who is charge from time to time, it needs you to heal it so you can too, so the world can too. Meditation helps me take nothing personally, it helps me live lighter and more peacefully and struggle less with what happens in my life. It keeps me from making mountains out of molehills, from finding ways to get over the mountains when I am staring up at one, but most importantly, I think, it lets the voice inside my head be my own best friend so I can can be a better friend to the world.