I am a wannabe meditator. I’m a wannabe a lot of things so this really should come as no surprise. But meditation is something that I feel like I would really benefit from. The idea of being able to clear your thoughts for a period of time, any period of time is so incredibly appealing to me. And incredibly unattainable.
My brain does not shut off. Ever. At any given moment it seems like I have 86 projects I am thinking about, some work, some writing, some home, some personal. There are near constant snippets of dialogue that pop in between characters in plays I am writing. There are phone numbers and passwords and account numbers. There are dates and times and places I need to be. There are inevitable plans for bending space and time so that I can make those dates and times and places I need to be. There is inevitable guilt over the dates and times and places I won’t make it to, the projects I haven’t started or have not kept up on, the people I haven’t called, the planning I have yet to do. You get the idea.
I am wound a little tight, I know that. But this is something that makes me good at my job. My brain doesn’t rest and so I’m always thinking of what my next steps need to be. And this is a good thing, a very good thing. But then in those moments when I have time for peace, when I need my brain to wind down, when my focus is all over the place and I need to center it, this becomes a big fat problem. I am an on again off again insomniac, more on than off. I can’t quiet my mind enough to say its ok… You can deal with this tomorrow.
I have been trying to learn how to meditate for years. First with books, then books on tape, and now with podcasts. I have tried it with music, with relaxation techniques, with silence… And I have found benefits. I’ve found a couple that can often help me get to sleep when nothing else can. I am particularly fond of this site’s podcasts http://www.meditationoasis.com/podcast/listen-to-podcast/ (#27 is great for getting to sleep). Those are also available on ITunes by the way, which is where I download them.
But I rarely try to use these or anything else on a regular basis. I’ll do it for a day or two and then give up when I can’t relax. I know, I know, for you meditation junkies out there I can hear you screaming at me “It takes practice!” Well, actually you are meditators so you’re probably not screaming at all. You are probably super relaxed, drinking hot tea, breathing deeply, and quietly saying “It just takes some practice, man,” while you think about planting a tree or something… I envy you.
Practicing meditation feels a bit like torture to me. Let me give you an example.
Sunday I sit down on the floor with my IPod and ear buds, cross my legs, and hit play. I decide to use a 10 minute meditation podcast on creativity since I am currently in my last throngs of working on a show that I am presenting Wednesday. The woman’s soothing voice begins, taking me through some breathing, telling me to relax, and I have the following thoughts:
Don’t think about anything else.
How is telling myself not to think of anything else going to stop me from thinking of anything else?
See, I’m already thinking of something else.
Well, I guess in theory I am thinking of the meditation.
But I’m not supposed to be thinking at all.
I am so close to being done with this script.
Just a few minor tweaks.
Maybe I should start on that book project when I am done with this.
Well do I want to start that when I’m going to have to start working on that other show soon?
Well when else are you going to start it?
I’m not listening to this podcast at all.
I wonder how long it’s been.
Must be close to 10 minutes.
I mean I have been sitting here forever.
My foot itches.
Can I itch my foot or do I have to stay still?
This is so not working.
Well that chick in Eat, Love, Pray had this problem when she first started meditating and then she had that total hippy dippy transformation out of body experience.
That’d be cool.
Seriously, I MUST be almost done… It has to have been 10 minutes by now.
I’m sneaking a glance at my IPod.
Just so I know…
JESUS LORD ALMIGHTY IT’S ONLY BEEN FOUR MINUTES?????
And you can imagine how the other 6 went. Basically I spent 10 minutes reminding myself that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking of anything while I thought of everything. How the hell do people do this?
I received a text early in the day letting me know that a song was cut from the show I am working on. This is no big deal, I am told. Just an FYI… Except it is a big deal because I had written everything leading up to this song. So now, on Monday when I have to present the script on Wednesday, I am thrown into a tailspin, rewriting as fast as I can. I spend about 6 straight hours, shutting everything else out, before I take a break. And then I take a break because if I don’t my head will explode. I watch a little TV. My roommate offers me dinner (thank god or I probably would not have eaten). And then I go back to my script. Except now I am at a standstill, because I mean, I’ve been working on this thing for hours. And now my brain is revolting. So I decide, maybe I just need to pull the focus back in. I have to finish this. Tonight. So I am turning on the same podcast as yesterday and I’m going to do the meditation right here and when it is done I am going to go right into the script.
This time I lasted exactly three minutes and 36 seconds. I would have sworn to you I was there, with my eyes closed, diligently listening for at least 45 minutes. So when my thoughts starting hitting the inside of my forehead like a freight train I thought surely I was close enough I could quit. And when I saw the truth, that even less time had passed since yesterday, I decided to hell with it and turned it off to start writing.
But a funny thing happened. I DID in fact, start writing. I started and I breezed through the rest of what I had to do. And I knocked out the rest of that script in a matter of a couple of hours. A couple of hours that felt like minutes.
I think that sometimes, writing is like a meditation for me. I can shut out a lot when I am working on a script. Because I am so concentrated on the words I am typing there isn’t room for much else to invade. The focus comes in close and I feel centered, and grounded. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. And I don’t think I would have been able to get to that place of focus if I hadn’t taken those 3 minutes and 36 seconds. It may have been short, but it also may have been enough to pull me back to what I needed to do.
Days 3, 4, and 5 I used a relaxation/rest podcast right before bed. All three of those nights I got home late and by the time I had time to do the meditation I was so tired it only made sense. All three nights I fell asleep before the podcast was done. Considering it was less than 30 minutes this is huge, particularly for someone who can spend hours upon hours in a constant state of insomniac induced stupor. I’ll take it as a win.
Day 6 was Friday. Wonderful, beautiful, amazing Friday. And this particular Friday was made all the better because Whitney, Laurice, and I went to the beach for the weekend. Epic.
We left after everyone was done with work and stopped for dinner on the way so we didn’t get to the condo we were staying in until around 10pm. By then we were all pretty tired and after a quick trip down to the water and back to our room we were all pretty much exhausted. I hadn’t done my meditation yet so I went out onto the balcony and laid back in the chair. It was so peaceful, nothing but the sound of the waves and there were a gazillion stars in the sky. I haven’t seen a sky like that in… You know, I don’t even know if I have actually ever seen a sky like that. It was spectacular. I didn’t bring my IPod out with me, I was at the beach after all. What’s the point of being near the water if you’re not listening to the water? So instead I set the timer on my phone, closed my eyes and took some deep breathes and tried, yet again, to think about nothing.
Longest. Four. Minutes. Of. My. Life.
After 4 minutes I looked at the clock, yet again, believing that it MUST be almost 10 minutes. No, no. Four minutes. Apparently four minutes is my time limit for this sort of thing. I was frustrated but rather than quit I opted to just keep my eyes open and sit there until the timer ran out. I studied the stars, I listened to the ocean. I thought a lot. My brain didn’t shut down by any means, but I also was not trying to distract myself from myself with phones or facebook or anything else. It was almost relaxing. Almost.
My alarm went off at 6:30am. For anyone who knows me well, they know that any time I have to get up before the sun does I am not pleasant about it. And if it’s not absolutely necessary? Forget it. Not gonna happen. I will absolutely choose sleeping in, even if it is for a matter of minutes, every single time. And if I am getting up early without the promise of coffee soon after? Don’t even think about it.
But on this particular morning I had a mission. I was at the beach on the east coast of the state and by god, I was going to watch the sunrise. So I woke up in the pitch black, pulled on a sweater, threw on my shoes, grabbed my camera, went into the living room and… Snoozed on the couch for another 15 minutes. Ok, come on! I said it was pitch black! I figured I still had some time!
15 minutes later I head down to the sand, wrapped in a towel, freezing my ass off. It was windy and probably somewhere in the low 50’s, which when you are getting that breeze off the water and there is no sun is chilly. Behind the condos is a set of wooden steps that leads down to the beach. I could see a few others out and about, mostly runners and old people who had already been up for 2 or 3 hours. But they were few and far between. I sat on the steps. And I waited.
I will spare you a long, rambling narrative on the beauty of a Florida beach sunrise. It’s beautiful. You knew that already. And I won’t tell you I had some life transforming moment. I didn’t. But I did have… A moment. Sitting there, listening to nothing but water and the occasional bird, watching this beautiful ball of energy slide silently up into the sky… You can’t help but feel something. And sitting there it dawned on me that I don’t think I have ever purposely set out to watch a sunrise before. If I have, I don’t remember it. I’ve certainly seen my share of sunrises but the majority have been after an all night rehearsal (or in my college days an all night party, unless my niece who is going off to college next year is reading this, in which case I meant an all night study session). But I can’t recall a time when I got up specifically to watch the sun come up. And definitely not ever over water. I’ve seen my fair share of sun sets. But this is different.
As the sun comes into view you have this feeling of… Rebirth… Renewal. This happens every day. Every single day. This beautiful, silent moment happens every day, whether you can see it or not. No matter what else has happened in the world you can know, the sun will rise tomorrow. There is something comforting in that.
And as the sun rose on this particular day I realized I wasn’t thinking about anything except that moment. I wasn’t thinking about what we were going to do that day, or the coffee I would need to find soon, or the show I was still not quite finished writing, or the relationship problems I am having, or the money problems I am having, or the next thing I needed to do at work on Monday, or things I feel like I am missing in my life, or how to be better, stronger, thinner, prettier, smarter, saner…. All I was thinking about was that I felt so lucky to be there, right there, right then, exactly as I was. And at some point it finally occurred to me… This is what meditating is supposed to feel like.
The sunrise is filled with peace but it is also filled with energy. I was exhausted from a lack of sleep, but I was no longer tired. I felt alive and happy and content. I had figured as soon as the sun was up I would be trotting back upstairs to grab some car keys and make my way to Starbucks, but as it turned out I wasn’t ready. I probably spent another 45 minutes on the beach just being there, by myself, with myself. I spent some time thinking about things going on in my life but not in a worried way, in a tranquil reflective way. And for the first time in a really really long time, I felt at peace.
I can’t watch the sun rise every day. I could be up and awake at the time of sun rise every day, sure, but I can’t really see it. And I suppose that if I had the ability to be on the beach every single morning some of the sacredness of the moment might wear off a bit. And that is the last thing on earth that I want. But that feeling, that feeling has to be attainable in other ways, or at least something like it. What I learned this week is that first of all, it is possible, and second of all even a few minutes can help. Yes, those 3 or 4 minutes were often the longest of my life, but you know what? They did help me focus. And they did make me feel more centered. So maybe it’s just trying to sit down for a couple of minutes that I need. Just a few minutes of no distractions, just me and my brain and my breath. I can aim for 10 minutes and maybe someday I’ll make it there, but until then 4 or 3 or even 2 minutes is perfectly acceptable. When I start to feel like I need focus in my work or my life, perhaps just a few minutes will bring me back down to earth.
I don’t expect that I will ever have one of those transcendental experiences like a Hindu yogi. If I did I’m not sure I would enjoy it anyway, I think it would just freak me out. But there are things I can learn from those who make it a point to take a few minutes to get out of their own head by getting into their own head. And there is something I can learn from myself in that perhaps meditation doesn’t have to mean for me what it does for other people. When I try to close my eyes and think of nothing all I can do is think. Maybe my peace is best found not when my eyes are closed but when they are open. That’s when I can see.
Meditation pictures courtesy of Google... But those beach shots? Those are courtesy of the universe and my camera.