“I can do this. Just 20 minutes. Just sit still. My shoulder itches. Stop thinking about it! My foot is falling asleep, almost numb. The numbness is always the opening act for the pins and needles. That would be a good name for a band, The Pins and Needles, and here they come, singing right up my leg. I’ve never been able to decide whether moving helps them go away faster or just makes it worse. I think I should go get more yogurt cups for the girls at Trader Joe’s. Oh, and I need more apples too. Okay, my shoulder really itches now, I’ve got to itch it. Just breathe a little longer. Speaking of, how long has it been? Don’t look, don’t do it!”
I peel my upper lid from my lower lid, just enough so no one will notice, even though the only living creature nearby is a quail squatting outside my door, and I doubt he can see past his beak.
“Really? It’s only been two minutes? Who am I meditating for? Why would I care if someone sees me open my eyes? I feel defeated. I can’t even sit for two minutes without a full chorus of complaints and to-dos.”
This is how it used to be.
For 10 years, I struggled my way through every meditation. I had the desire and the discipline, yet I couldn’t seem to be anywhere, but elsewhere.
A few years ago, I began asking the question, Why? Why do I meditate? and Why can’t I meditate? From the why came the how: How do I meditate?
Meditation is a science — the science of understanding the pathways of the brain and how they react to different situations, experiences and stimuli. Through this understanding, we can learn how to respond to these reactions and train the brain to focus.
Before we can have a purposeful meditation and yoga practice, we must first become a scientist fluent in the physics of the practice. It is impossible to bepresent in stillness for any amount of time without knowing how our brain functions.
Until we aquire this knowledge, sitting is ineffective — a waste of time, and detrimental to our well being due to the unnecessary pressure and expectation that breeds from our naiveté.
“Practice and all is coming.”
These are the wise words of the late Pattabhi Jois, the master of Ashtanga. I agree, as long as there is a method to the practice and guidance of the method.
Practice may bring a mastery that mimics perfection, but practice also creates suffering if one does not know what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Attempting to sit in meditation without learned technique is comparable to placing a 2-year-old on the floor of the NYSE and expecting him to navigate the system on his own while conducting the trades for the day.
Chaos amidst chaos. Chaos causes more chaos. My favorite description of enlightenment is, “Enlightenment is learning not to make more struggle of the existing struggle.”
In this situation, not making more struggle would be grooming and teaching a person how to traverse the trading floor with grace, discerning the viable trades within the noise and creating a profit.
Meditation is the same. We learn how the brain operates, cultivating the tools to manage it, before we sit down to listen to it. The profit bestowed to an educated meditator is a contented life, with an abundance of efficiency, discernment and intention. We respond more and react less, because we (the mind) have learned how to direct the brain as it keeps the trading floor open all day, every day.
The brain is the NYSE, the mind is the trader.
The brain and the mind are two separate parts, as are the spirit and the soul. In order for them to work synergistically, they must be studied separately, understood individually and then, connected together.
Before we can be present in stillness, we may want to learn how to be present in action.
The other day, a woman approached me, and in one stressed breath she asked: “My friend told me you are a yoga teacher, and I’ve always wanted to meditate and be present, and I just want to learn how, how can I meditate?”
I asked, “You probably already do and you don’t even know it. What do you love to do that calms you?”
Her face relaxed and she replied quietly, “I like to run. I can hear myself breathe. I feel my feet and I notice my surroundings.”
“So you see? You already meditate. Just do it more, in other facets of your life. Turn any chore or repetitive action into a sensory overload, and see if you can separate each sense from the other. For example, when I vacuum, I am only vacuuming. I pay attention to the feel of the handle in my hand. The vibration and hum as I turn it on, how the vacuum resists as it stumbles across a crumb on the carpet, and the sound of the crumb as it is chewed inside the canister.
“I am completely there, in the experience, hearing, feeling, seeing — sensing. I am fixating my brain on a task as my mind remains concentrated in the experience. I extract myself from my surroundings, so that I may be in it, being in it, is being present.”
Her response began with a sigh of relief. “Oh my gosh, I can totally do that.”
“Yes you can,” I encouraged.
The “how to” begins with attention — paying attention and educating ourselves about the mechanics of the brain. That’s it.
Before we can sit still and meditate like a monk in a Nepalese cave, we need to learn how bathe within ourselves, in the active moment, without thinking of the next action.
This is presence, being present and I think it may even be a little something “they” like to call enlightenment.