Monkeys And Meditation

If I ever mention that I have dabbled in meditation I get a mixed reaction. People are suspicious, but at the same time very curious. What is meditation about, really? Is it about relaxing? And is the person they're talking to really strange?

I actually haven't had much time to meditate recently. We spent the first half of this year buying a flat and moving and are now planning a wedding. Setting aside some time to meditate would probably help with such stress, but never mind. You do what you can.

But what is meditation, really? If I could describe it in the simplest way possible it would be about attention. Have you ever become so absorbed in doing something that you lose all track of time and nothing else seems to matter? For a little while you forget all about your constantly growing 'to do' list, those pictures from 2006 that you never put in an album, the sandwich you left rotting in the work fridge a few weeks ago and also, the sudden thought that maybe all the people in your life have formed a secret club to conspire against you (maybe you believe me now that I'm a paranoid person).

I've done a lot of reading about the idea of mindfulness and meditation, focusing your attention on the task at hand and not listening to all those little thoughts that go shuttling through your brain every minute of every day. But reading about it and doing it are two different things.

So maybe a year or so ago I decided I needed to practice this ability to pay attention – which is what (I believe) meditation is mostly about. I actually bought the book Meditation For Dummies and dealt with the embarrassment of reading it on the London tube. If you're looking for a primer on the topic it's a great broad introduction without any particular spiritual or religious bent.

I started with the first basic type of meditation: to simply sit on the floor (or a cushion), close your eyes and count your breaths. And every time your mind wanders away from focusing on the rise and fall of your belly, you try to bring it back. Apparently our minds are particularly good at wandering. I took a yoga class in San Francisco earlier this year with my friend, and her teacher called this "monkey mind" since your mind is running all over the place like a little monkey. I love this. Sometimes the monkey in my mind also throws fruit at me.

I've experimented with daily 10 minute bouts of meditation over the past year or so, but it's been hard recently. Fortunately, life gives us some great opportunities to start practicing focus and attention without it.

Now I just try to get fully involved in whatever it is I'm doing. Whether it's a conversation with a friend, a meeting, or a task at work that's particularly difficult. When every bone in my body is screaming that I need to be somewhere else doing something else that would make me feel better or happier or calmer, I try to take a deep breath and return to where I am now.

I read once that hell is wanting to be somewhere that you're not (wish I could remember where - I will keep looking for the reference). Maybe we don't have enough time to meditate, but it sure seems like a waste of time in our short lives to be wishing we were somewhere else.

1 comment

  1. I'm with you on this. Spending time thinking about being somewhere that you're not, or doing something you're not doing, or having something you're not having, is all time spent not-being, in a way. It kind of negates the experience of being here, which can be so exciting when we're paying attention to it!
    I like that your monkey throws fruit. Sometimes mine goes "edit-undo" "edit-undo" "edit-undo", seriously. That's when I know to turn off the computer.


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