TO THE MAT
I was in the midst of planning a huge event in Boston, my first one. I had the job of my dreams working at the young age of my late twenties for Aveda Corporation and I was solely responsible for planning a gigantic beauty event for about eight hundred attendees. I had never done anything like this before and the entire experience was super stressful. I was in perpetual freak out mode because at that age that was just what my emotions did back then, before I grew up and realized the silliness of that.
I’m too stressed out to do yoga. Yes. These actual words spilled out of my mouth over twenty five years ago as I was speaking to the owner of a brand new yoga studio that had just opened in Middletown, RI. Innerlight, a studio way ahead of its time. It may have been the first one to open in most of RI besides All That Matters. The very zen owner looked at me without so much as an eye roll and said something calming and kind that didn’t even make its wisdom into my personal space. There was not a chance I would have signed up for a yoga class at that time because I couldn’t even imagine sitting still for a second. Of course, this should have been exactly what I jumped into, but my ego and my impatience with quiet would not have allowed this.
I hear this daily. I can’t sit still. I could never sit still for an hour and a half or more treatment. My mind is always on the go. Do you have anything quicker? Every day a woman asks us this and makes these comments so imagine the commentary now when these same women find out about my new meditation practice. My WHILE THE COFFEE PERKS, meditation practice that literally is timed by a full pot of coffee brewing.
I have always been a good deep diaphragmatic breather especially since my husband and I separated almost eight years ago. I started meditating before I went to bed at night usually guided by a wonderful meditation app called Meditation Oasis. The soothing voice of the woman guiding me to a more restful evening helped me sleep better; she helped calm my mind and rest my fast beating and sad, confused heart. This app also helped get me back to sleep on those frequent three am wakeups that would find my heart racing with fear questioning my decision to break up a twenty year marriage. As wonderful as meditating on your back before bed is (and I highly recommend it as a great place to start the practice of self soothing), it is not a conscious meditation because you fall asleep.
Meditation is more about consciously going quiet and being conscious of that quiet. It is active awareness of the quietest place in your heart, mind and body. Showing up for a date with the mat and quieting your racing mind for even one minute is not easy. This is the point. What? Isn’t meditation supposed to bring inner peace and total quiet joy? Why the hell would someone want to be uncomfortable actively pursuing a quiet and calm state? I know. It seems almost contradictory on paper. Sitting cross legged, hips pulsating, legs cramping, back bothering, mind endlessly wandering to the endless to do list that circulates like a tornado through our brains. This is the point.
Many many years ago I had found a book written by Vietnamese Monk and Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh on mindful meditation. The book’s premise, if I remember correctly, was that every moment in our day offers golden nuggets of opportunities for meditating because meditating is not always about sitting in a lotus position and chanting OM for two hours. Meditating can be when you are washing your dishes, or standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for your gas to fill up the tank. Meditation is about awareness of our thoughts, allowing the wild west thoughts that run rambunctious in our heads from one moment to the next and instead allowing them, noticing them, without judgment or criticism and finding our breath instead. This is miraculously simple once you realize how often thoughts run amuck with no consciousness and how easy it is to feel good by simply taking a deep breath every time you can remember to notice when your thoughts are running like wild banshees.
This was a good place to start for me, just bringing breath into my day wherever and whenever I could remember to. But this was just the first step of meditation and I soon learned that this was not enough for me. I needed to actually create an actual practice of meditating. Like showing up to a class, but instead the class would be a pillow on my floor of the living room. Free. In my jammies. Disciplined. My struggle in my life has always been discipline and commitment. Ever since I was a little kid if I had something I was supposed to do, if something seemingly more interesting came up, like a party or hanging out with friends, I would usually blow off what I was supposed to do, homework for example. Practicing my instrument. So this month in an effort to get reconnected with a deeper spiritual part of me, I decided I would work on this. Creating a spiritual practice that would benefit my health, my heart, my connection with something bigger than the day to day grind of busy-ness.
So I started. To the mat, or in this case the floor of my living room. I sat cross legged completely uncomfortable, while the coffee percolated. And I began breathing. In through my nose for a count of four, holding the breath for another count of four, releasing the breath for four, and feeling the empty space for a final four. While the coffee dripped, I practiced this discipline. My mind wandered, I felt frustration, angst, impatience, boredom, annoyance, but I kept with it. After all, how long does it take for a full pot of coffee to brew? And about seven minutes later, the pot beeped signaling it was finished and I opened my eyes thankful it was over. But guess what? I felt different, better, calmer, gentler. It was strange. So I did it again, the next day and the next day and then I added some gentle stretching, some cat/ cows, some downward dogs, some child poses and I felt better and my legs crossed easier. All while the coffee perked. It has been three weeks since I started this new practice and it is getting easier, but the point here is the skill set I am building to self soothe, to calm my busy head and allow my own body to do what it does best when I allow it some space. All over a pot of coffee.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation