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Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Following My Bliss…On the Bus

In Meditation, Work/Life Balance on January 25, 2013 at 8:00 am
Fresh sprinkling of snow - perfect for a morning walk.

Fresh sprinkling of snow – perfect for a morning walk.

It’s a blustery day, with light snow disrupting commutes and making people grumpy. I’m combating the cold by thinking of the many things I’m grateful for: my warm socks and boots, a thick coat, and fairly reliable public transit. Above all, I’m just trying to be mindful.

It’s so easy to shift into “auto drive” mode each day on my commute. The sounds and movements on the crowded bus can be hypnotic, a dull hum that I easily drown out by diving into the columns of emails piled in my work inbox. But I don’t want to drown it out, at least not today, so I try to focus on the present moment.

Mindfulness on the bus can take a lot of shapes. Being aware of my emotions as I encounter strangers, being aware of the people sitting near me – the way they sit, the things they say to one another, embracing the simple pleasure of the commute itself, which is an island of (relative) peace before I enter the perpetual busyness of the day.

Having just finished Don Lattin’s book, Following Our Bliss, I can’t help but wonder at the roots of my quest for mindfulness. Lattin attributes much of today’s fascination with meditation and mindfulness to the LSD-inspired experiences of the 1960s hippies, who were trying to connect to a broader global consciousness.

I would argue, however, that my motivations for seeking mindfulness are somewhat different. Unlike the 1960s, today we take for granted the inherently global nature of our interactions. Technological breakthroughs have spurred communication. It doesn’t matter what message you’re trying to spread – you can find a venue and an audience for it in the digital world.

The interaction is non-stop. The internet, in fact, seems to stand almost apart from time.  Our lives have expanded past the traditional bounds of nine-to-five, workplace and home. We’ve transcended, but we’re not certain what it really means. It’s a new infinite, one of our own creation, which makes it all the more puzzling.

In the midst of this, mindfulness provides a mental refuge. Taking a deep breath and focusing on the moment can help center us and remind us of what is real. Mindfulness challenges us to let go of the ceaseless wave of our digital lives and competing workplace demands and instead appreciate the value inherent in simply being alive. This is why I turn to mindfulness: to help remind me that even a crowded rush hour ride on a creaky, muddy city bus can be something special, because it means that I’m here.

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Deep Breaths: Meditation and the (Tricky) Art of Letting Go

In Meditation, Work/Life Balance on January 19, 2013 at 11:45 am
The serenity we see in nature is not always as easy to capture in our own minds.

The serenity we see in nature is not always as easy to capture in our own minds.

You’ve probably heard about the recent lipservice paid to the physical and mental benefits of meditation. Better focus, renewed energy, calm, and peace of mind. All of this great press reinforces my NYE resolution to meditate daily. For me, meditation is about grounding myself, reflecting on my core values, and increasing deliberate mindfulness. You could say that meditation is my way of savoring life (thanks, Leo), although it can never replace my daily chocolate addiction. Thankfully, I’m pretty certain that you can savor more than one thing, otherwise I’d be in trouble.

My first, brief flirtation with meditation was back in my college days. I was freshly arrived on the East Coast and waved around my California suntan and Santa Barbara beach stories like some kind of protective flag. A friend, convinced by my hippie/surfer charade, told me about a flyer they’d seen advertising a meditation group. Afraid to dispel my carefree image, I declared that I would go. After all, don’t all Californians meditate? Needless to say, I arrived at the class wholly unprepared for what was about to happen.

The room was bare, bathed in gloomy light and suffused with the spicy, make-your-throat-itch smell of incense. Myself and the other newbies uneasily circled the instructor, a thin, grey-haired man in his late fifties, who was calmly seated cross-legged in the center of the room. He invited us to join him, and we awkwardly plopped to the ground, the wiser of us landing on the sad-looking pillows we’d brought from our dorm beds. The instructor briefly explained the concept and then we closed our eyes. Therein ensued some of the longest, most drawn-out minutes of my life.

For those who have never meditated before, allow me to shed some light. We spend our days wrapped up in a frenzy of mental and emotional activity. We’re hardwired to be “on” constantly, and give ourselves little room to relax, much less empty our minds. Meditation runs against the very grain of this paradigm and challenges us to attempt (what seems) the impossible: to turn off our thinking minds. No time. No judgements. No emotion. Nothing.

Simple enough, right? To the uninitiated, meditation feels more like slamming the brakes in a semi-truck going 70 miles per hour. Instead of stopping, what happens is that everything suddenly clamors for immediate attention. You hear the brakes screaming, the tires skidding against the pavement, horns honking all around, and little voices telling you that this was a bad, bad idea. This, my friends, is what it was like for me to meditate that first time. I was wholly unprepared for inner battle that would ensue the moment I closed my eyes. At the end of the thirty minutes, I was exhausted. Instead of feeling connected to some greater energy, I felt like I’d been pounded by waves for hours.

I only went back to that meditation circle once or twice more. I hadn’t expected meditation to be so challenging and I was ashamed of my failure. Several years went by sans-meditation. Occasionally, I’d feel a glimmer of guilt. Then one day, I realized that I was ready to give it another try. This time, it was much easier, especially since I knew what to expect. I had matured enough  that I didn’t give up when I didn’t instantly achieve a state of nirvana.

This brings us to today. My meditation practice is going well, thanks in part to some lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Lesson #1: start small. I try to meditate a minimum of ten minutes a day. I’m gradually building from there, but ten minutes is small enough to seem achievable, especially when balancing a busy schedule. At the stage I’m at, even ten minutes can be a challenge.

Lesson #2: acknowledge and release. The first time I tried meditating, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t empty my mind. I now know better. Instead of trying to instantly empty, I try to acknowledge the thoughts and emotions running through my brain and then one by one, let them go. This is a remarkably cathartic process. As I am discovering, sometimes peace of mind is as simple as recognizing that for ten whole minutes, I don’t have to fix everything. The world no longer rests on my shoulders, and I am free to just be.

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Currently Reading: Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi dissects creativity with a highly objective eye. He asks us to let go of our preconceptions of creativity as something whimsical and erratic; instead, he paints a picture in which true Creativity (with a capital C) stems from rigorous work and interactive processes. One of his most intriguing claims is that in order for anything to be creative, it needs to be validated by others working in the same field.