Five years ago, I had posted on my bathroom mirror this famous quote from the Upanishads:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
Watch your words, they become your actions;
Watch your actions, they become habit;
Watch your habits, they become your character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
My sister swiftly came out of the bathroom and said, “How the heck do you watch your thoughts?” One answer is through a meditation practice.
I’m definitely in my infancy when it comes to meditating. When I was in high school I dappled with it, but my expectation back then was that I would sit quietly, inhaling and exhaling the word OM or AUM, and expect that I would feel as if I were levitating and see bright lights and have such clarity at the end of each session. I thought I would be completely renewed. I think the word I used most often was “enlightened” — how obnoxious. I didn’t realize that I was not, in fact, Siddhartha. Frustrated that I would never become Buddha and reach nirvana from sitting cross-legged for a few minutes a day in between the many highs and lows of high school, I quit.
Years later, I’ve learned a lot more about meditating and how it is approached by normal people, who have jobs, kids, and live in the fast-paced real world.
In the meantime, though, between high school and now, I put meditation to rest. It simply wasn’t for me, I said. I didn’t need to meditate because my practice was my mediation. During a good practice, when I was able to completely tune into my breath and fully absorb myself in the moment, I was meditating. I could block out externals — the music, the heavy breather next to me, the show-off in front of me, the bumbling beginner. It was just me and my mat. I had found intermittent glimpses of pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga where the senses are withdrawn. Clearly, if the asana practice was this great, I didn’t need to meditate.
Not only did I assert that my asana was my mediation but I also found every excuse I could. I was way too busy. I was pregnant, again. I have three kids to look after: when will I ever find a few minutes of quiet. When I do have down time, I need to do the laundry. I deserve to sit quietly with a glass of wine instead. I came up with everything. Besides, how is meditating in silence for five or ten minutes any different from resting in savasana for five minutes.
Yet, my teacher kept urging me to meditate. She never expounded on its virtues or judged me for not doing so, she’d just ask with curiosity if I had started to meditate as if she knew that some day it would be a regular practice for me. So, since I do almost everything she tells me to do, I finally decided to make a concerted effort toward a regular meditation practice. After all, I teach many yoga classes a week, that’s a lot of savannas that I’m just sitting through, doing nothing but daydreaming and examining my pedicure. Why not put that time to good use and sit up straight and tall, close my eyes and breath?
I know if you have a well established meditation practice you may think that this is not the “right” way to meditate and that five minutes is barely enough time to drop into any significant meditative state. I am quite sure you are right and know way more than me. At the same time, I can feel the effects of this practice, even when I end up just daydreaming with my eyes closed. Taking just five minutes, to block out all external distractions and focus on my breath and slow things down has had a dramatic effect. To draw a parallel, as a yoga teacher, I would rather someone try a few poses each day than to never bother to try because she can’t do it as much as I would like her to practice. She can open her hips more by doing a few hip-opener poses a day than sitting on the couch watching television. So, a little is better than nothing and over time maybe both me and the part-time yogi will practice more and more.
What’s interesting is that even when it’s less than satisfactory, even when my mind has not slowed down one bit and I think it’s a big waste of time, later in the day I still notice I can give myself some space between what I am thinking and how I react to it. I can observe my thoughts much more accurately and much more quickly and ask myself, “now why am I getting so upset about this?” before I react. Not all the time, of course, but more often than when I wasn’t meditating regularly. It has given me the ability to not jump to so many conclusions about what other people are doing or thinking. It has given me more clarity, not in the moment of mediation, but the lingering effects.
Try it. Commit to just five minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit up tall, set a timer and make sure it’s started before you close eyes. Then, just watch your thoughts.