I met a woman yesterday who wanted to learn how to meditate. It was clear that she was interested and yet questioned whether or not she was capable of the practice. And then she said it, how do you clear your mind? It’s funny, this is the same notion I had about a year ago when I first sat down to “empty my thoughts.” It failed of course.
It was not until I started running on a regular basis that I began to appreciate what it meant to practice. When you are running it sometimes feels like flying, other times it feels like trudging up a mountain side in a harness while pulling a wooden cart behind you. I remember a run where I was going along the Olentangy Trail and made it to the junction where it splits off North, to OSU, and West, to Grandview. I was feeling good so I kept on going all the way out to Grandview for a 12-mile trek. But the thing I remember most was the feeling of presence. Breathing steadily. Feet hitting the trail in a rhythm. The sun falling through the tree tops and across my shoulders. Thoughts aligning to the effort and then giving way to peace.
That’s the moment I knew I could actually meditate. All I had to do was to stop fighting it and just let whatever happens on the meditation pillow actually happen. So I got a couple books by Stephen Levine and his son Noah, subscribed to a meditation app which acted as a coach, and restarted my Yoga practice. It’s funny what happens when you just listen to your breathing. Focus on a single part of it. Maybe count the in and out breaths. Anything that will keep your mental metronome ticking as your head erupts in continual thought. Yet it’s those moments where you anchor back on your breath between the minutes of beautifully chaotic thoughts that you actually practice meditation. It’s just a few handful of moments of empty space, but it’s the stuff that trains, no… reprograms, our minds to observe and not react.
That’s the point of the Cloud Meditation, which I read about first in an illustrated children’s book while doing research for a talk I put together for the Columbus Web Group on mindfulness in the workplace titled “Being There.” Anyway, the cloud meditation teaches us that our thoughts are like clouds. All sorts, shapes, colors, and sizes. And the point of the meditation is to help us to realize that we are the empty space in between all the clouds. That we are the sky.
And while I’ve been coming closer to a regular practice I’ve also been forcing some of it. It still does not come naturally, but that’s probably because I’m also struggling with an anxiety condition which is, to say the least, the exact opposite of mindfulness. But I will say this. Yesterday while I was on my stomach on the table with my shirt off and the tattooist’s tools painting my back black with big dark patches along the design that I meditated at points. I had made huevos rancheros from my new cookbook “A Modern Way to Eat” earlier that morning. It called for garlic so I had chopped two cloves of elephant. I love garlic. Breakfast was just for me and it was fantastic with lots of black beans, the eggs, guacamole and toasted tortillas with strong decaf coffee. So as the sound of the various devices Andy used yesterday got progressively louder, indicating more needles per head so that it could do painting versus smaller I started to struggle a bit with the pain. And that’s when I smelled the garlic on my hands still. That one memory brought me back to a clearer place, like with listening to the breath, just long enough that I was actually able to relax into the experience and just let it happen.
The point is that everyone can meditate. And that the practice is different for everyone. That we don’t have to be seated on a meditation pillow with incense and a candle all the time. We can be in a meeting. Debating with a colleague. Coaching ourselves through a panic attack. Or on the tattoo table.
There is a sense of humor within change. Even as I feel like I have gone on the warpath with lifestyle change towards a heart health, I have to laugh at myself for approaching everything like medication. It may not be what I wanted, but I realize these give me a better chance of survival. Funny thing for me is that I slipped into meditation so naturally yesterday. The simple influence of the smell of garlic which pulled me outside of the moment and into a feeling of enjoyment. So even though it still feels awkward at times, it’s now part of my life. You see, if I can do that so can anyone. Smell is one of the most powerful conduits to memory. I think my next challenge, after talking with the psychic, includes work that will help me to open the solar plexus chakra so that I can visualize beaming that positive feelings out to everyone around me. Well, that and relaxing around this two-year-old lifestyle change that shook everything about myself up… one clove of minced garlic at a time.