I crossed a threshold yesterday. I meditated for ten days in a row for the first time in my life. I’m trying to make the practice a habit, but as with everyone else, I’m a busy person. I have a family, a job, and a million interests. When is there time to meditate.
Bald Men in Robes
When I first became interested in meditation, I thought that there was some rmandatory connection between Buddhism and meditation. I read a couple books on Buddhism along with the Dali Lama’s books on Meditation.
I found a local Buddhist temple and discovered that they had a weekly meditation session. I talked the wife into going and we headed off to the temple to give it a shot. I realized that I had made a mistake when we walked in the door. A bald man in a robe was greeting everyone. We settled into sitting positions around the room facing a blank wall and for 30 minutes tried to focus on the breath as it entered and left the body. The man in the robe kept wanting to help me adjust my legs. He kept interrupting my poor attempts at focusing on my breath and nothing else by randomly shoving small pillow under my knees. Eventually he left me alone, but I probably spent half the time with him adjusting me.
After the meditation the situation got even more awkward. I am not a religious person, but found myself stuck in a room full of people swaying and chanting for the next 30 minutes. There was a reading and several other chants. It was all very uncomfortable for me. My wife and I left and never looked back.
Mindfulness without Buddhism
I hadn’t realized that the practice of meditation was not inherently linked with any particular practice. The book that really helped me look differently at mediation was John Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Kabat-Zinn strips away the mythology and explains that “”Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” There is no funny hat requirement, or need to shave your head, or wear a funny robe. All you have to do is breath and pay attention. As thoughts come up you notice them and let them go. I like to categorize the thoughts as they arise as past, present, or future out of curiosity for where my mind spends the most time. (Most of my random thoughts while meditating center on an imagined future, usually a fear of something negative happening)
Kabat-Zinn made me realize I didn’t have to sit uncomfortably on the floor with my legs twisted in a pretzel or in any other particular pose. I could just sit and breathe and marvel at the maddening chatter that goes on constantly in my head. Of course, my biggest problem is that I am not a great time manager and most days passed without me doing any meditation. I needed a push.
A New Tool
One of my favorite pastimes is watching random YouTube videos on any topic I’m currently interested in. Lately, I’ve been watching videos on affiliate marketing which led me to a video by Tim Ferris, author of the Four-Hour Work Week.
I ended up on a meditation video that he had recorded that talked about an app. The name of the app was Headspace. It’s available for most platforms.
The app is free, but there is a subscription option for those who would like access to a large library of guided and unguided meditations. The cool thing for me was that the app would send me reminders at a chosen time. The Basics program is ten days of guided meditations. Several of them have a video segment explaining some idea related to mindfulness.
Way of Life
Now that I’ve finally got meditation as a normal part of my routine, I find opportunities throughout the day to focus on the present in a kind of in situ meditation. When I’m walking between buildings at work. When I sitting on the bus to and form work. When I’m walking my dogs. When I juggle. When I’m cooking.
Mindfulness is not about changing your religion or chanting, or any of the other trapping that had somehow become mixed with it in my mind. The truth is in the word. Mindfulness. Take a moment to notice where you sit or stand and how your body feels. Be present in the moment and the miracle that is the world around you. Notice the workings of your own mind and where your thoughts go. When you pause focus on the breath, or the movement in your body, or the weight of you as you stand or sit. If you get lost down a rabbit hole, as I often do, once you notice your thoughts racing away, notice it, let it go, and come back to the center.
In the end, it’s about being comfortable in your own mind and recognizing that you are not your thoughts.