Today a Facebook friend complained that he tried meditation and only lasted seven, maybe eight, seconds. He didn’t know if he had attained a state of mindfulness but made a list of 73 things he wanted to accomplish today. He’s decided that he’s not cut out for meditation–he may be more suited to juggle fireballs.
I offered my best advice from seventeen years of meditation and reassured him that he hadn’t failed at all: The art of meditation seems to be all about losing yourself in thought every few seconds and then coming back to the breath or larger awareness again and again. Maybe dozens or hundreds of times in a single session. It’s like going to the gym and learning to develop a muscle. Eventually the space and silence becomes more settled and that’s lovely, but it’s never about trying to eliminate thoughts because that’s impossible. It’s about going back to the larger awareness or mindfulness again and again.
So many folks decide to meditate, sit on couch or chair, close eyes, and focus on breath or mantra or candle. Just like my friend–in seven seconds the mind chimes in with a thought like “What’s supposed to happen now?” or “I’m bored” or “I should be answering emails”. If twenty seconds have passed the mind continues with “What should I make for dinner tonight?” or “I am so angry at so-and-so!” or “Look at how messy this house is.”
Often the thought that follows is: “OK, I can’t meditate. I can’t stop thinking. This is ridiculous.” The meditator abandons couch or chair convinced he’s done something wrong.
Dear meditator, from a fellow beginner after seventeen years–you have done nothing wrong. You are not failing. Let’s both try it again for the first time.
(I am meditating as I write these words. You could even meditate as you read them, if that feels right for you. Read each paragraph slowly and then stop for several moments and notice the room around you. Notice your thoughts as they arise. Notice any feelings coming up. Allow everything to be as it is. Notice the larger awareness that surrounds everything. Then allow your eyes to return to this page and read the next paragraph. I am going to stop typing now and notice what’s larger than these thoughts.)
If you read the paragraph, and then paused to notice the rest of the room, perhaps your breathing, perhaps your feet on the floor–welcome to beginning meditation. You’re succeeding.
As you read the last paragraph, your mind probably focused into a reality of words. It forgot the trees waving outside the window, the hum of the hot water heater, the warmth of air. Let’s pause between paragraphs and see what else is in our world.
Can you feel your mind relax as awareness widens? Can you notice the silence in between thoughts? You might even notice awareness itself. That’s what I am noticing.
Notice your breath, just as it is. Don’t try to change it or force it to be anything other than it is.
Did you remember (if you wanted) to pause in the space between paragraphs and notice whatever is arising naturally by itself? Even thoughts or opinions? But also just letting them be. Noticing what else is here. Let’s pause again.
You might close this blog and just continue to sit quietly in your room, softly noticing breath. Softly noticing whatever is present. And returning again and again to the larger awareness that surrounds everything. Here’s a thought, here’s the presence of this moment. Here’s a feeling, here’s the refrigerator hum, here’s peace. Here’s a stomach ache. Here’s an annoyance. Here’s whatever is arising–but it is all being held in this larger field of noticing or awareness.
We are always beginners as we meditate. It’s just that we’ve sometimes strengthened our “noticing muscle”. Sometimes we’re able to allow things to be exactly as they are. At other times we’re able to catch ourselves in a painful emotion or sensation and notice the larger awareness that surrounds it. Sometimes huge waves of peace or bliss arrive to visit–but that’s not the point (it’s taken me years to learn this!) The point is the practice of going back to the beginning again and again and noticing what’s here.
What’s here, what’s real, what’s true–in addition to our mind/emotions which may be playing like conditioned software programs in the grooves of our brain for the rest of the week or maybe the remainder of our lifetime.
Meditation is possible off the couch. It’s possible while typing (although that does take effort and I forget this over and over again). It’s possible to simply allow everything to be how it is and yet return to the noticing all-encompassing awareness over and over again.
The reason we’re all beginners? Because every moment is fresh and new and alive. A beginning mind meets it with openness to see what’s actually here. Because we might think we know what’s here–but do we really? We might think we know how to meditate–but do we really? We might think we know something, but it’s also possible to discover the joyful peaceful beauty of no-thing.
Thanks for meditating with me today. We did great.