Monday, August 29, 2011

Brain in a Hammock

Zen kitty meditates on bed.
When I was younger, I viewed meditation and these eastern-type religions as "other," "freaky," even "dangerous," even though I identified myself as a staunch atheist and very anti-religion. Why dangerous? Why be threatened by something you reject? Strange. Still, I was always curious about meditation because it never seemed as if there was a good, clear answer as to what it was. So that made me more curious. What do you do when you meditate? After all, being raised Catholic, defining prayer was easy. You put your flat hands together in front of you, palms together, fingers pointed up, bow your head and recite some words. Catholicism had a whole list of prayers for every occasion. If you needed to specify it for someone or some thing, just adjust the first or last lines and voila! Customized god message!
     So was meditation the same thing but different? 'Well,' I was told, 'not really. It's not a request service, for one thing. Meditation was about emptying your mind.' Really?  How do you do that? And why? 'Well,' I was told, 'you sit quietly.' Yes, and... then what? 'Well, you just observe how erratic and noisy your mind is.' Yes, so what's the trick to emptying it? 'Well, there is none, really. You just watch and be still. And breathe.'
     Well, of course I'm gonna breathe! Talk about frustrating. This made no sense at all and yet people I admired and respected talked about it all the time. They "practiced." They felt better about themselves. They enjoyed it, but all their descriptions about it still made no sense to me. What was I missing? Education? A degree? Some frequent flyer miles? What did it take to suddenly "get it" about meditation? Did I have to get older to magically understand? 'No, just sit quietly and practice.' Yes, but what do I do? 'Well, nothing. But don't forget to breathe.'
     This is silly, I thought, but I did it anyway. And immediately noticed that my head was swimming with thoughts, some that made sense, some that referenced events earlier in the day, worries about family, work, friends, pets, the economy, a note to myself about some sneakers I needed to check the price on, don't forget to get some milk on the way home, what was the name of that song earlier today and then oh, yes! I loved that color of that flower I passed on the way home, reminds me of the time I was on the subway and that "Can Man" appeared. Why can't my mom and dad ever come down to visit me in the city? Where are we going for Thanksgiving this year anyway?
     And so on. Wow! And that was only in the first few seconds! Jeez, I thought to myself, I suck at this. How am I ever going to get my brain quiet? I immediately gave up. However, I stayed curious so I tried it again during my first attempted yoga classes and noticed I still sucked at it. They did a little chanting and I felt incredibly self-conscious and stupid and it only made the inner voice in my brain have something new to fret about when I was supposed to be "QUIET." Still, I kept at it, hoping I'd find some trick or thing I was supposed to be doing. And then an amazing thing happened on the way to my sitting, breathing, observing mind. Small moments would go by when I would suddenly feel like I had re-emerged into the thought stream. I realized that I had had a brief second of no discernable thought. Just for a millisecond. I wasn't aware of it so much as I was aware that I was thinking again so it must have happened just before I became aware I was thinking, right?!? I nearly freaked out. My god, I thought, if I could string a whole bunch of those moments together, I might just get this meditation thing! So I've kept at it ever since. I tried it at home, in yoga class and particularly on the subway rides to and from work when I lived in NYC. I figured if I could manage a few quiet moments of meditation during rush hour, meditation in a candle-lit zen temple would be a piece of cake.
     I wouldn't call my home in Kentucky a candle-lit zen temple but it suffices when I sit and meditate at home. I'm much better at it now. I can sit for an hour when I have the desire but mostly I stick to anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, whatever feels good at the moment. Some days my head is still filled with nonsense, other days I manage a deep blankness, moments when I feel like the ping pong balls in my brain settle down just briefly and the grey matter lies back in it's hammock with a hat over its awareness and rests. It's a small chance for the electronic synapse roller-coaster to reset itself and get ready for another day of thinking. Ah, peace...


  1. Nice! Thank you for taking the time to be still and write this. The Power of Now helps me with understanding how the mind gets in the way, and is not really who we are. Always love to read your stuff!