People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that meditation needs to not only happen in a quiet, seated position, but that it needs to happen on the ideal cushion, and in the most serene and peaceful setting. We want to shop for the best Zabuton, create a beautiful alter, and even have a separate “meditation room” - and when one of those things fails to come to fruition we somehow never get around to putting our little tushies on the cushion and getting to work.
Does this sound familiar?
Needless to say, this kind of thinking tends to set us up for failure, because the circumstances are never quite perfect enough for us to get down to business and to reap the incredible rewards of this very powerful practice.
Truthfully, the only thing that we need for meditation is our mind - and the fact that our minds travel with us pretty much everywhere (let’s hope!), this means that we can actually meditate in any place, at any time, even at a moment’s notice.
While there are lots of different kinds and styles of meditation (transcendental meditation, meditations involving mantras or guided visual imagery), what I’m talking about here is a variation on the theme of mindfulness meditation, where the only “goal” is to be totally present with your current experience, no matter what that experience is.
The essence of mindfulness meditation takes the following premise as fact: That as human beings we (quite ironically) spend most of our days engrossed in thoughts of the past or the future, despite the fact that nothing truly exists except for the present moment.
The past is gone, and is nothing but a memory. The future hasn’t happened yet, and is nothing but a fantasy.
The only thing that truly exists in this world is, for me, currently, my fingers tap tap tapping on this keyboard as I write this article - and for you, your eyes looking at these very words on your screen as you read them.
That’s it. That’s all we’ve got, folks - this very moment, right now. To have an active meditation practice is to - effectively - remind yourself of that over and over (and over) again.
From that viewpoint we can say that your only “job” when you meditate is to be truly present - whether it’s with your breath, the feeling of your butt on your seat, or what have you. Now, with that in mind...
Now that we’ve established that the only “goal” of meditation is to be present, you can easily see how this practice can travel with you anywhere. The only question is how you can do it without anyone even noticing!
I like to call this practice “stealthy meditation,” and the name of the game is simply to be totally present with whatever is happening for you at any given moment.
As an example, let me set a scene: Imagine that you’re out at dinner with a group of friends. If you notice that your mind is elsewhere - perhaps the service isn’t good and you’re finding it to be a distraction - allow those thoughts to just gently leave your mind. Check in with yourself by taking a deep breath, and focus on the feeling of your body in your chair.
Your five senses are vitally important in this practice, and your invitation is to focus on any one of them, while allowing any thoughts of past or future to melt away.
Take a moment and check in with your body. Do a brief scan - are you carrying tension somewhere? Try to let it go. Notice anything that’s physically present for you at this moment.
In our fantasy sequence, where you’re with your friends in the restaurant, is there a candle on the table? Allow your gaze to soften on it. In fact, if it feels right, look at the flame like you’ve never looked at a flame before. Truly SEE it.
As you hear your friends speaking, allow the sound of their voices to sink in through your ears - all the way to your bones. If it’s a loud, clamorous restaurant, don’t fight it. Instead be truly present with the noise. Take a deep breath and find a place of peace amidst the bustle.
If you decide to take a bite of food, try to savor every flavor that crosses your palate. Truly notice what the food feels like as it touches your lips, or as you chew.
Return to your breath.
The goal is simply to be truly present, and through that presence to find peace. That peace is within you.
Are you with me? This is the path to freedom.
Dr. Leslie Carr is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and via Skype. More information can be found at www.lesliecarr.com.
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