I’m a bull in a china shop type. Not quiet. Not the type who pops into one’s mind when the ideal of meditation comes to mind, not from one who is thinking of serene, zen, or still. But I am learning, slowly. During years of meetings, treatment, rehab, etc., mindfulness was a word I heard a lot. I sucked at that too. Group leaders would demonstrate and handout piles of papers about mindfulness and meditation. They would discuss how we could be mindful doing everyday things, like washing the dishes or cleaning the litter box. My response thought to that was…there’s no way in hell I am only going to be able to think about all of the sensations that are happening while cleaning this spoon or dish. Ultimately, the sensations of that soapy spoon bring to mind other things that would likely earn me a few more days here. While learning how to be mindful, we also learned about meditation. They are similar but not the same. Sometimes I struggle with the two. The best way that I have come to understand and explain mindfulness to others is this:
Being mindful encompasses what is happening in your world, body, surroundings right at that moment and can be experienced by utilizing your senses. Ultimately, being mindful one accepts what is, as it is, and does not try to change it. For example, I notice my head hurts a bit and instead of worrying how to change it or why it hurts or if four ibuprofen and two Tylenol would effectively slay it, I acknowledge and accept it. I mean, how much more completely opposite of me can this practice get?! I accept and not pop the pills at that exact moment!? The funny thing is, I have become pretty accustomed to practicing it today and it has helped me in my recovery a bunch!
Now, enter meditation stage left. This is another one of those things that I, at one time, envisioned myself like a little pretzel (instead of eating a bag of them) and quietly humming and reciting mantras and foreign languages to myself and the universe while closing my eyes and thinking of nothing. Um, no. So I suppose I can best describe it like this–again–my own definition, not Websters by any means:
To meditate is to quiet one’s mind and sit still. While meditating one can be mindful (see above!) or one can focus on an intention, word, phrase. Then again while being mindful, one can meditate about something in particular.
My primary goal, ultimately, is to really just try to quiet my mind, get my body to stop twitching, and settle my soul so I don’t feel like I’m constantly walking the line, Johnny Cash style. Even after years of practicing different techniques, reading books, listening to speakers, attending meetings, I can honestly say that it is still somewhat of a struggle. Although, I would be selling myself short if I didn’t say there was some improvement.
During a recent hike with my wife, at this beautiful wildlife refuge on the seacoast of Maine, I have come to my most recent practice of meditation. My wife and I decided to sit at a bench we found on our hike, after walking and exploring for a bit, and try to still our minds and bodies for only five minutes. The surroundings were so peaceful and it was such a nice and much-needed date for us spending quality time together. I agreed that we should…well maybe not at first. At first I had been disappointed a bit because the crazy curly-haired critic in my psyche told me I “should” be better at this by now. Then the rational woman with sensible shoes comes to mind and after some thought, kicked that critic to the curb, and told me that fact that I’m choosing to try to still myself is enough. I am enough. Here are three primary observations I had during this meditation that made me, and ultimately can make you, feel good enough with the meditation that you do. This humbled meditation perfection and envy for me.
- THE FACT THAT I CHOOSE TO STILL MYSELF IS ENOUGH This was difficult to understand at first. As I quietly sat next to my wife, fidgeting a bit at first, and my wife set proudly set the timer on her phone for our mediation, my mind took over my body and soul examining, suddenly now seemed like a good time, whether I was ready to meditate at that moment. I was thirsty. my lower back hurt. I wasn’t quite ready. How about two more minutes to prepare for this meditation. All of these thoughts whisked through my head. After a deep breath I thought, “I’m Okay. The fact that I am even healthy enough to sit for a few moments and not stop my feet in toddler protest is enough.”
2. AS LONG AS I AM BREATHING, I AM ALRIGHT Then, true to myself, I started trying to slow my breath so it was a little calmer. That’s one of those things that “they” always say. Slow your breath, concentrate, count your inhales and exhales. Fill your lungs, clear them out……….should I suggest pizza for dinner again? I know it’s not the best thing I should be eating, especially after this healthy hike and all, but La Festa pizza seems prime and is that my stomach growling again or is that my gall stone rolling around and getting pissy? How long ago did we have La Festa? Oh I guess it was last week! Do I have that clarifying shampoo left at home? Should we stop at Rite Aid on the way home and did I leave that coupon in the car? Am I still breathing correctly? What’s the bank account look like? What was that rustling in the leaves, we are too close to the city for it to be a bear..Right? Right? and for the love of God why am I so thirsty, right now, and at this moment? Did we pay that toll bill already. I casually open one eye and notice that my wife is calmly meditating.. Isn’t she thinking about dinner, too? Ugh my eyebrows need a good pluck too. And that rogue chin hair.. Why now? Why do I feel it now? Are my tweezers still in the car? Then it comes to me…I’m breathing faster than I would like. I slowly relax and close my one eye that I suspiciously opened to quickly eyeball what was happening around me in my normal busy body fashion. My lesson here is that fact. I recognized that I was breathing faster than I would have liked and for the next two minutes I was able to close my eyes, mostly. Progress.
- BEING MINDFUL IS ACTUALLY SOMETHING I HAVE INTERNALIZED BY ACCIDENT Is that a spider on me??!! I feel the crawl on my leg. Oh maybe it was just a breeze or I should have shaved with a new razor? Is that traffic I hear in the background? I start thinking about how crazy it is that I can hear the vehicles in the distance, yet still be so close to beautiful nature. I open my eyes again suddenly, only to ensure that there was not a spider and that only a slight breeze interrupted my thoughts. Another minute has passed. I feel sensations. I am using my senses and even if I can fully still myself I am mindful of the feeling of some movement on my leg, spider or stray hair, it didn’t matter. (Okay, that’s a lie. I did care, not a spider so that worked out well for keeping the quiet aura for my wife who was still quietly meditating). Hearing the vehicles, horns beeping and engines hissing in the background was slightly comforting and not because I am a city girl at heart and very accustomed to that. It was more because I was allowing myself to hear that. As much as I pined over the caprese pizza I wanted, I was able to slow down enough to focus on my senses and the humidity of the day. The lack of breeze and the salty air. I sat mostly still, except for trying to figure out the spider situation.
By the time our mediation was over, both of my eyes were open and I was walking about the area, peeking into little holes in the ground and peering at trees that had fallen during recent storms. I was playing around with my Iphone filters on my camera and taking cool photos. My wife was just adjusting her eyes and opening them to find me frolicking about around her, trying to be quiet albeit unsuccessful. She was not shocked. She knows me well. I may not have been locked into a pretzel stance or humming noises and reciting mantras. The truth is, I felt a little calmer, a little more at peace. The hike itself was actually part of the meditation for me.