Phone rings, dog barks, my nose itches. What interrupts you in the middle of your meditation practice? There are thoughts, of course and the goal is to let the thoughts float on by. Sometimes I have an interesting idea and I promise myself I'll come back to it later, then I keep my promise. But outside distractions are out of my control. In real life, the sounds of the physical world interfere with the time I have set aside for silence. Here is what I do: I hope the noise subsides and I start again. I don't start from the beginning. I've already done my breathing and have relaxed my body. I have a head start and I use it. I just go back to my mantra and back to the place where I found my stillness. This is not a perfect practice. This is meditation in the real world.
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Meditation is not about ambition. It is about intention. It is not about doing it right or being the best or even about becoming enlightened. It is about sitting in stillness for twenty minutes every day. That’s all. Now, see what happens.
I meditate. I tell people I meditate. I tell people I blog about my meditation practice. But I do not have the patience nor do I make the time to study about meditation. I have made a feeble effort to read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda, but never made it past the first couple of pages. I tried a couple of times to meditate with the online Deepak and Oprah original transformational meditation program(their words). I found the built-in sales pitches distracting. I attended a meditation workshop and support group at my local yoga studio, but I found it uncomfortable to sit on the floor. My meditation practice is comfortable, not all that challenging, and highly effective. I find it's better to have kind of a crappy meditation practice than to have no meditation practice at all. I don't worry about stuff like whether or not I scratch my ear if it itches or if the dog starts to bark as soon as I sit and I have to quiet him down, then begin again. This practice is not a practice of perfect. It is a practice of easy and a practice of compassion for an impatient and perfectly flawed person - me. And maybe you, too.
When I sat in Lee's living room and she taught me what she knows about meditation, she insisted I not call her my teacher. She once scolded me, as only a former high school English teacher could, for referring to her as a guru.
I used to say: Everything I know about meditation I learned from Lee. But now I see why this is not true. Every time I sit down to meditate, it is a new meditation and new chance to find stillness, to find the way to my center. No one can really teach such a thing because it is within each of us to find our own way. But those of us who have cultivated a habit of sitting in stillness every day can encourage others that they too are able to do the same. It is not magic. It is not mysterious or esoteric or only available to those who have scaled the mountain and sat cross-legged for day upon uncomfortable day with the guru. It is available to everyone and it is available to you.
This past weekend, I participated in a Meditation Workshop at Cleveland Yoga with JoAnne Aboussouan. This is the first time I've ever done any kind of group meditation and I wondered whether I would experience something unusual, some sort of group energy experience. Meditation has enriched my life in many ways, but it is pretty consistent that when I look for something for meditation to bring to me, it doesn't. The concept I found most helpful was an overview of various breath techniques. For example: alternate nostril breathing. This is when you use your thumb and forefinger to close off one nostril, inhale through the other nostril, hold for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through the alternate nostril. Like diaphragmatic breathing, this type of breath work allows your nervous system to calm down and in general get you centered enough to be able to sit in stillness. It only takes a couple of minutes and I count this breathing time as part of my 20-minute meditation time.
We also spent some time talking about our Objective Observer. This is that part of yourself that observes your thoughts as they pop up when you're trying to meditate. Your objective observer is used to your monkey mind and without judgment, she watches your thoughts, then watches as you let them drift away. Personally, I don't use an objective observer when I meditate. I have a subjective observer. She's fond of coffee and ice cream just like I am, but she is a kinder, gentler version of me. When my monkey mind kicks in and the thoughts breed more thoughts one after the other, my subjective observer says: It's okay. You're going to get it. Try again.
For twenty minutes each day, there is no voice that chastises me for all the things I have not accomplished. But there is a voice who is encouraging and kind and optimistic that I will achieve stillness despite all the negative distractions. I think I'll go buy her a latte.
In yoga class this morning, the boy next to me had an ankle tattoo: So it goes. It's the classic refrain from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. I thought: What a perfect mantra. It says everything and nothing, same as yoga, same as meditation. After class, I had an opportunity to chat with the studio owner, a woman I call the Reluctant Yoga Mogul for her reticent manner and burgeoning yoga business. I know from my dealings with her at Cleveland Yoga, Tami's business plan is: Do the Right Thing. If you have punches left on your pass and your pass has expired, she'll extend your pass. If you forgot to bring your credit card and need to purchase a class, no problem. Pay online when you get home. Today, Tami was hosting a Kenyan yogi named Walter whom she had meet through the African Yoga Project. She was pleased with the class he taught because he had emphasized the connection between a yoga practice and tikkun olam (my words, not Tami's). But tikkun olam is what she meant. It's our duty to repair the world. Yoga means union and when you can feel an undercurrent of connectedness between doing good for the outward world and healing ourselves on the inside, that is when yoga happens.
So it goes. Namaste. And thanks Mr. Vonnegut.
I do not study meditation. I am not an expert. I'm someone just like you who always thought meditation was something I SHOULD do. Sit in stillness for twenty minutes? Impossible. Complicated. As far as the practice of meditation goes, we all have the capacity to trick it up until meditation becomes something too intimidating to try. To sit in stillness is difficult, but it is perfectly simple. Here’s what I do:
- I take five or six diaphragmatic breaths. That means when I inhale, my belly goes out. I imagine a waterwheel in my body. Inhale and exhale smoothly. Inhale, the breath travels up to my head; exhale, the breath spills down. Try to stay rhythmic and not to work too hard.
- Sit in a comfortable place. I like to sit on a straight-backed chair with my feet flat on the floor.
- Next, I imagine a bright light shining out from my eyes, my ears, my nose, my mouth. It’s important to relax your mouth. All sensations that I have experienced so far in the day are gone. I will them away. I send the light down my neck, both shoulders and arms and all fingers. I send the light down my spine to my legs, including my toes. The light ends in my chest cavity where I try to imagine a colorless, empty space. This last bit of imagination is impossible. Be okay with that and you're on your way.
- If you get an itch, feel free to scratch. This is meditation, not a trance.
- I focus on my “third eye” (the light between my eyes that I am able to see with my eyes closed). I repeat a mantra. Something simple like at ease or peace or the ambitious Who am I? I use the mantra to remind myself to let go of my thoughts. As a thought passes into my mind (and thoughts will pass through your mind), I encourage myself to draw the thought down to my heart. It helps to imagine a magnetic force from my heart that draws the thought downward.
- When the next thought pops in, I encourage myself again. Treat yourself kindly, like you would a small child. Say: It’s okay, you’ll get it next time or Try again.
The whole process takes me twenty minutes although I do not set a timer. My body seems to know when the twenty minutes is up. The first five minutes are for breathing and relaxing, the last fifteen minutes are when I encourage myself to meditate.
I try to find the stillness, but it is rare to succeed for more than a moment or two. But the only way to fail at meditation is to never try.
- Sit in a comfortable position. For me, that is in a straight-backed chair with my feet flat on the ground.
- Treat yourself as you would a small child. As you meditate and your thoughts wander, be forgiving. Say: That's okay, you're going to get it. Try again.
- Do not set an alarm. Trust yourself to know when twenty minutes is up. Have you woken up a moment before your alarm goes off? Your body knows.
- When you have an idea that needs more thought, promise yourself you'll get back to that idea later. Keep your promise.
This is the most difficult advice to follow:
- There are no goals in meditation. If you're trying to achieve something, you're not meditating.
- Give yourself this time every day. Every day.
Corporations have come to meditation with the hope of boosting their bottom line. Decrease stress: increase productivity and develop leadership skills. Why not? Besides, who am I to judge? I also came to meditation with a secret desire for increased creativity and productivity. If you have a goal, you're not meditating. But everyone I know who has come to meditation came for a reason.
- Attention Deficit
Meditation may or may not fix any of these issues, but it will definitely bring a change and will definitely reveal something obvious about your life that for some reason was not apparent before. Just because the goal is workplace efficiency or a more profitable bottom line, it doesn't rule out the possibility that meditation will bring about unexpected benefits that were never the goal of the program. For me, that is the point of meditation. It's now what you are seeking, but what you find.
So for my money, more meditation for the suits! Let every corporation instill a meditation program. Bring on the capitalist karma.
Joe came home the other day, very excited to have taken part in a program titled Where Smart Businesses are Going: Conscious Capitalism, The Business Model of the 21st Century. There are business people out there, looking beyond the goal of profits, who believe a corporation can and should focus on making the world a better place. Here's the gist:
In the words of Darden school of management professor and Conscious Capitalism, Inc trustee Ed Freeman, “We need red blood cells to live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).” While making money is essential for the vitality and sustainability of a business, it is not the only or even the most important reason a business exists. Conscious businesses focus on their purpose beyond profit.
What better way to achieve executive enlightenment than through meditation? For the ultimate in corporate consciousness, follow me to the next logical step. Who wants meditation? Google wants meditation. Twitter and Facebook offer in-office meditation sessions and encourage work routines that maximize mindfulness.
But, let's face it: Google, Twitter and Facebook are the cool kids. Imagine a world where the dorks of the corporate world like accounting firms and widget manufacturing plants, bring a teacher in to teach employees to meditate and provide a dedicated private space where someone can sit in stillness. Instead of coffee breaks (not sure such a thing still exists), there would be meditative moments. There is a productivity paradox. Find the time to sit and do nothing and you will have more time available and accomplish more.
Meditation grows empathy and connects organic concepts in its subtle quiet way. Even the mystical aspects of meditation tread softly. The practice is inscrutable, but the results are evident. Who says it won't help the bottom line?
I get hurt, I get angry, I get irrational. I react. But, since I have begun to meditate, there is a pause between the action from without and my response from within. The beat between the hurt and my response is charged. The pause gives me the freedom to set the rhythm of my response. It is not that I wound softer or deflect better. But the ability to beguile time, even a little, to be my ally instead of my adversary, that is the wonder of meditation.