Saturday mornings when I was growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I learned a life-long lesson. My habit was to sit with a box of Fruit Loops watching Fat Albert and The Jetsons. This meant that it was coming up on 11 am. My mother would eventually find me sequestered in my childish version of “sitting meditation” and plead, exasperated, “Go outside and DO something. It’s too beautiful a day to waste inside.” Which was the equivalent of saying, “go get busy.”
That was the lesson learned: sitting inside is wasting a day. Going outside to get busy is a productive use of time.
I don’t think I’m the only one who learned this lesson. Modern culture praises busy-ness and productivity. It’s become a badge of honor to have a full schedule, and flaunt it on social media. This societal pressure to get out there and “do something” may have unwanted side-effects.
Don’t just do something, sit there.
I’m not saying it’s bad to do things. I’m just saying that if you do things just for the sake of trying to keep busy, it might be difficult to tune in to the voice of wisdom inside. I know this from experience.
I have a tendency to over-fill my schedule. (This is partially why Crestone is such a good place for me to be–there’s not much to do!) I then get anxious and sometimes resentful about keeping all the commitments–that I have made myself. Go figure that logic.
This reflects my inability to do nothing. When we are uncomfortable with what’s going on in our minds, it is hard to sit still and do nothing. Being confronted with the chaos of what goes on in there can be very uncomfortable. It can seem easier to stay busy to avoid looking unwanted thoughts and emotions. But they will catch up with us eventually. My feeling is that it’s better to confront them directly at the source–meaning in the present moment. Otherwise they have a tendency to manifest as chaotic situations that result from not paying proper attention.
When I get too busy, or when I know I have periods of intense activity coming up, I re-commit to daily sitting meditation and schedule it in.
A strange phenomenon
I know it’s counter-intuitive to add another “activity” when you already feel stretched for time. But there is some strange phenomenon that makes it work.
I remember the day I realized this. It was the day I committed to daily sitting meditation. I was living in Paris, rushing out the door to teach one of my four private classes that day, all in different parts of the city. I was constantly stretched for time, and savored every possible moment to sleep in the mornings, and I had not left myself enough time to practice. As I was getting ready to head down to the metro, I caught myself in a moment of clarity. I said, “Listen missy, you are yoga teacher, you teach this stuff, and you are not practicing as you preach. Get on your cushion for two minutes until you can find your breath.” So I did.
The result was that for the rest of the day, I could rest in the awareness that I had cultivated during those two minutes. It allowed me to relax more during the day, which gave a sense of spaciousness to my packed schedule. I’ve since rarely missed a day.
Sitting meditation offers an opportunity to slow down and take a look at what’s going on. It’s like washing the dishes, or brushing your teeth–when you do it on a daily basis you keep things tidy and hygienic. When you make time to sit, your mind feels spacious, so you feel like you have more time in the day. I think this is because when you slow down enough to notice your thoughts, you also become aware of the space in between them.
Working with busy mind
Now that I am a meditator, sometimes I spend entire week or months in sitting meditation–doing nothing. Or at least that’s what I’m attempting to do. Often my mind is too busy thinking about all the things I did in the past, or the things I will do in the future, or things I shoulda-woulda-coulda done with my life.
But the most interesting part of sitting and doing “nothing” in meditation is how exciting the results are. Things change rapidly and dramatically after I’ve spent time watching the stillness of mind. It never ceases to amaze me.
And this is something that you have to experience to know. You cannot learn this from someone else, and you can’t explain it to anyone else. And even though my dear mom still prefers to get outside and do something every day, rain or shine, over the years she has seen me mature as a result of this practice. She has come to accept that sitting inside doing nothing is the right thing for some of us, some of the time.
Make it a practice to slow down by re-committing to your daily sitting meditation practice. Schedule it into your morning and/or evening routine just as you would any other appointment.