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.
Well, what do you know! It would seem that during the half hour or so I take in the evenings before bed to sit on my couch and watch the flickering of my LED candles. It would seem that sometimes when I sit in my morning room chair and look out the window, I often do some meditating. Thank you, Kathy.
See, I sometimes think maybe people build it up in their minds to be something more than it is. It sounds to me that you are meditating every day, Carol. Lovely. ❤
This is a great way to look at meditation. I’ve told you before about my friend’s metaphor of the pasture (one’s mind) and cows (thoughts). The paragraphs and white space is another, more detailed way, to make it make sense. (Is it even supposed to make sense? I think that makes it sound too logical.)
Stacy, I sort of remember you telling me about your friend’s visualization before. I often have trouble visualizing–and love words–so the paragraphs and white space seem to make more sense to this brain. Have never thought about it in relation to a blog post before, though! I just told my son that writing this post (while simultaneously meditating) has made me sooo happy today. Would love for readers to feel some of this happiness, too, but for once my soul is just beaming for being given the experience of doing this today by the Universe. Thank you as always…
It’s a beautiful analogy. XOXO
All of the above and then some. My comment was almost finished and then the page went away to the top of your bog. Oh well. Too disgusted to redo it now. I identify with your plight.
I am sorry to hear about your comment disappearing into space, Yvonne. Would have liked to hear what you might have said about meditation. Blessings!
I will comment here on my site. I have tried maybe two times to mediate but my mind wanders and travels. I concentrated really hard to just let go of thinking but either I was doing it wrong or my thoughts are just to busy. I might give it a go again one day, I lay with my eyes closed and try to not to think and I can do that for maybe a minute. I am not sure if mediation is for everyone. I listen to music sometimes and that is more or less calming. I understand that mediation is wonderful for many folks and I think is a good tool if one can master the technique.
Yvonne, yes, a lot of people think they are trying to let go of thinking, but it’s really more of a matter of becoming aware of the space around thinking! Then getting lost in thoughts and coming back to the space of silence (even if it’s 5 seconds) again and again. I am not sure meditation is for everyone either. It just seems that more people might like it if they didn’t think they were trying to get rid of their thoughts. Thanks for coming back and sharing!
It’s a hard thing to convey, isn’t it? I was vastly relieved when I read this from Eric Harrison: “There’s no such thing as bad meditation.”
Rachel, it is really hard to write about meditation. How to describe it in a way that doesn’t cloud or confuse matters. And there is a relief that can wash through us when we realize we can’t do anything wrong. Some of my meditations over the last 17 years have led into cul de sacs, but they were never wrong. They were what I needed to learn at the time. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Excellent advice. Cannot said it better. It is a practice so we keep going one breath at a time.
Thank you so much! I know you’re a fellow meditator. I was so thrilled yesterday to realize it was actually possible to meditate while writing a blog. Would never have thought of that before!
WOW Thank you for this post…all this time I have been feeling like I was doing it all wrong too for all the reasons you mentioned.
Tim, thank YOU! Maybe I wrote this post just for you. I keep seeing people beat themselves up for not being able to meditate. They think it’s all about making the thoughts disappear. But it seems to be about relaxing enough to see the larger space of awareness open up around the thoughts. Blessings to you!
Kathy, while I haven’t consciously made a point of meditating, I always feel “at peace” when I’m in my garden. Even pulling out those dreaded weeds calms me. I’m conscious of what I’m doing, but don’t notice anything else around me. Is that meditating?
Once upon a time I had a phobia of birds. The thought of them coming near to me terrified me! But one day I was lost in thought in the garden when suddenly I heard a movement right beside me. A magpie had come up next to me, and when I saw it and squealed, even though I startled it, it didn’t leave me. That’s when I realised that the bird was more vulnerable to me harming it than it harming me, yet it trusted me. I haven’t been afraid of birds since. 🙂
It sounds to me like gardening is a kind of meditation for you. That calming rhythm of activity soothes the nervous system and then it may be possible to notice the awareness that surrounds us and is always present. I think there are many kinds and ways and purposes of meditation–from relaxation, to mindfulness, to perhaps even realizing our true nature.
I also love the story of how your phobia of birds ended. It sounds like you were in such a deep state of relaxation that you were able to bypass your own fear and just be present with the magpie with compassion. Such a beautiful gift! (I once saw a snake while meditating and realized it had the same awareness as me, and just felt love and compassion.)
Ahhhh, I meditated along with you as I read your lovely post. In fact, I could feel my mind calm down a bit. I heard the birds chirping softly outside my window; I felt the slight breeze surround me from said window; I sipped my not-too-hot tea and tasted the flavor of Earl Gray flow down my throat to sooth me; I listened to the ringing in my ears, not so bad today, reminding me to turn on the classical music for another sensation of musical meditation; I closed my eyes and realized I’m surrounded by something unidentified, uncontained, and sweetly unimaginable. Ahhhhh. ❤
Ahhhhhh, I meditated with your comment just now. Wait for just a second–am going to do it again more slowly. Double ahhhhhh…. I did not know (or forgot) that you had ringing in your ears. That sounds challenging. I am glad you recognize what surrounds you and could articulate the unarticulatable. xoxo
“Can you feel your mind relax as awareness widens?” Yes. I liked joining you in meditation. Well done, I feel calmer as I sit here. Of course, I’m kind of pre-conditioned to easily meditate, being somewhat of a sloth who enjoys just being in the moment. Also, I’ve never ever made a list of 73 things to accomplish in a day. That’s wacko.
Ally Bean, isn’t it a joy that we can find ways to relax our minds and bodies and feel calmer? Especially needed in years like ours where life can get so jangly. I am smiling to hear that you’re good friends with the present moment and don’t write long to-do lists. I am a reformed long to-do list person, who now only occasionally writes short lists. 🙂
So basically, meditation is the awareness and acceptance of what is?
I do a brief affirmation/prayer and meditation each morning. Some days it lasts longer than others, depending on how much I have to do that day. Yes, I get lost in my thoughts of a to-do list or an emotion that was triggered by someone. The way I bring myself back is by focusing on the sounds around me, like the hum of the refrigerator, or birds chirping on the feeder, etc. So many times we block out background noises, but when I focus on them, I become present. The one thing I’ve not been able to do is observe my own thoughts. I get lost in them, but can’t observe them as if I’m watching/listening like a fly on the wall. They are me, so I don’t know how to detach from them other than shifting my focus away from them and on my present surroundings.
Sometimes I like a guided meditations to guide me. I liked your guidance today. I should put you on call. 😉
Good morning, Lori! I think a lot of people might say that meditation is an awareness and acceptance of what is. Other people say it’s a way of relaxing, and some of the teachers point to realizing more deeply what we truly are. I like that you bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on background noises. That sounds like a great technique. I can do that sometimes, but not always. And yes–it’s so easy to be snared by those thoughts and sent down a rabbit hole into the Thought World. Have been there a million times. I am finding it easier not to be dragged into Thought World after 17 years of this practice, but extreme emotions can still trigger it. I am SO glad you liked this! I had a ball writing this earlier in the week!
I love this post because it helps me to recognize that what I have always called day dreaming is really meditation. Whatever we call it, the benefits are great. And they come from those rejuvenating moments of quiet reflection.
Dor, I love those rejuvenating moments of peace and reflection so much. Am wondering now about the difference between daydreaming and meditation. For me, when I daydream I am often lost in a thought or story that just keeps drifting through. When I meditate, I am noticing whatever story arises but always returning to also notice the space of awareness, peace, silence. The more I notice that awareness the more still and story-less everything becomes. Wondering if your daydreaming is like that–where the silence becomes more prominent than the thoughts?
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Loved the meditation post. I too have a daily practice. I have never struggled with it. I often wonder though, what impact doing it for years will have on my life. Thank you for taking us back to the basics again.
Hi earthcomplex. How nice to hear that you, too, practice daily. Wondering if you have seen impacts on your life already. You must have, or you probably wouldn’t be continuing to do it. And it was really fun writing this post! I smiled all day Monday.
I hope this doesn’t sound trite, but I’d love to do the opposite of meditation. I live, daily, with brain fog brought on by a bad (prescribed) drug interaction years ago, and I am in an almost perpetual state of that clearness, nothingness, but I can’t focus. Can’t focus mentally at all. Sometimes a mind clear of anything really isn’t comfortable.
I am feeling for you, Val. That does sound really challenging. It is reminding me of Jill Bolte-Taylor’s book “A stroke of insight” which talks a lot about the left and right brains. Have you read it? We need both the right and left brains to be fully operative in the world. Are there exercises or practices which can help you focus more?
Thanks, Kathy. No, I’ve not read it, I’ll look out for it. I’ve tried all sorts of things. I think this was a chemical change in my brain. About the only thing that helps – but doesn’t restore it completely – is good sleep, alas something I don’t get often. x
Actually, I think I may have seen her TED talk.
Yay! Does reading this post mean I get to put a star next to Meditation on my daily goal tracker?! Giving yourself gold stars for meditating seems like the very opposite of what a meditation mind should be worried about, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do?
Yea….I don’t know if meditation is a gold-star type of thing. At least it hasn’t been in my life. Gold-star meditations do happen…but they can be few and far in between. In some ways it’s more like relaxing and paying attention and not losing that attention in the outside world. Until it all opens up. But these are too many words, and certainly not “beginner’s mind”. Do what you do. The Universe keeps teaching all of us. ❤
I think, it is very difficult to explain meditation in words as far as my experience. It is not done, it happens itself. Meditation has no technique.
You are so right. It is impossible to explain meditation in words. But we can sometimes point our finger toward the moon and gesture. People will mistake the finger for the moon, but that’s why this is a beginner’s post about meditation—and it’s possible to all keep looking at that moon with beginner’s eyes.