Last fall, after years of saying, “I really need to start a meditation practice,” I finally did it.
At first it was all sweetness and soothing music, as I joined a 21-day online challenge led by none other than Mr. Mind/Body himself, Deepak Chopra. His calming voice, pearls of wisdom and suggested mantras made it easy to sit on the meditation cushion for 15 minutes each morning and feel pretty good about myself.
On day 22 I returned to the cushion, timer in hand, sans Deepak and his nature-scape soundtracks. And that’s when I faced the real challenge: my own mind.
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet,” Chopra has said. “It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”
And so it has become my earnest quest to access that quiet, which waits patiently beneath the eager thoughts that flood my mind from the moment I sit still.
“Excuse me, I’m trying to meditate!” I yell at my mind, rather missing the point. There follows a moment of shocked silence in which I focus on my breath, remember a mantra or visit the oft-cited “space between thoughts” where champion meditators hang out. For me, that space lasts as long as it takes to click a remote. In an instant, my mind is checking out a new channel.
I now see why they call this phenomenon “monkey mind.” It’s driving me bananas.
So what kinds of thoughts are crowding out my serenity? Well, there’s usually lots in there about the day ahead, yesterday’s remnants and the endless to-do list that haunts a self-employed person. It’s as if my mind decides, “Well, now that I’ve got your full attention, let’s rehearse every step of every thing we have to do this day/week/month/year/lifetime. Oh, and let’s not forget the list of stuff we need at Whole Foods, that weird shudder in the car and…did I return that email from Leslie?”
The more I practice, the more I see what’s going on. It’s a control thing, led by my ego as it fights for its right to dominate my life, arrange every detail and have its say. Perpetually. Author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer has a clever acronym for EGO: Edging God Out. Mine is less profound: Endless Gratuitous Opinions.
Of course, this running commentary isn’t limited to my internal state or those minutes on the cushion. Once I had enough yoga and mindfulness training under my belt to start witnessing my mind, I was rather horrified to see that it has something to say about everyone else, too. And it’s often not very nice.
Walking into Starbucks, my mind starts to chatter about that guy’s bad haircut and that woman’s unflattering top and that kid with too many piercings and the barista’s annoying voice and…“Oh, just hush!” I tell my in-everybody’s-business monkey mind. Another second of shocked silence follows before it finds something new to inventory.
The thing is, the deepest part of me deeply craves that elusive quiet beneath the endless stream of thoughts. I think most of us do, despite (and because of?) all the distractions that tug at us 24/7. I just need to get my mind on board with this desire, give it another job to do while I’m meditating, and be patient with the process.
Ultimately, the point is not to try and walk around with an empty mind. It’s to get more comfortable with stillness, spend more time there, and take it with me when I rise from the cushion. I actually had a preview of this the other day.
Lying on a bed in my parents’ Cape Cod home, I found myself staring out the window, just watching the trees and the birds do their thing on a sunny afternoon. All of a sudden, I realized that I was thinking…about…nothing! It was a triumphant moment.
Of course, my mind had lots to say right away about how great that was, and how I must write about it, and, “What should we eat for dinner? It’s must be past 5 now. Where did I put my phone? Let’s Google that Italian place near the beach…”