As much as I talk about being present and finding ways to relax, I’ve found meditation a challenge. Over the course of my life, I’ve tried a variety of yoga classes and have always had considerable trouble quieting the chatter in my head during the silent, meditative focus segments. I would often leave feeling like a relaxation failure and be more keyed up than I was when I got there.
During my certification program for creativity coaching, however, I was put in the position of experiencing and learning guided meditation and, while I approached it with apprehension, I found that having a guide made all the difference for me. In guided meditation, the teacher, coach or leader, uses a soft voice to deliver soothing images, and sometimes a storyline, that the participants can focus on and, in doing so, allow themselves to melt into a relaxed, meditative state. Ambient music is often playing simultaneously and I like this, too, particularly when it incorporates ocean waves and water sounds. Guided meditation totally works for me.
Recently I went to a meditation class with a friend while I was away on business. It had been a hectic week and I felt like I could really use a little quiet focus so I was willing to give it a go again. The room was dimly lit with candles all around, soft new age music played and we all settled into cushions where we began with some gentle, seated yoga poses and stretches. So far, so good. Then, she led us on a water themed guided meditation–hooray! My favorite! I was melting away, totally focused on the imagery of a vast ocean, no other thoughts intruding on my consciousness and occasionally slipping into a tiny micro nap before I jerked myself awake to be back on the shores of this beautiful daydream. And then, she stopped. She turned off the music and in a soft voice said she was going to set the timer for quiet, self-meditation. No one made a sound or moved a muscle. I figured they all knew what was going on so I’d better just sit tight and… well, quietly meditate.
And that did it. All of the sudden, the chatter in my mind returned. I thought about the day’s work, the work ahead, what junk I’d eaten so far that day and what I might want to eat after this class was over. I worried that my stomach might start to rumble and that others would hear it. I thought about whether the pain in my tooth could necessitate a root canal and the possibility that I hadn’t turned off the propane on my gas grill back home the last time I cooked out. My back began to feel stiff and weird and all of the sudden I realized I wasn’t sitting in a position that would be comfortable for very much longer… there was a twingey pain in my ankle. And then a little itch started in my throat. I have no idea where it came from… it just came. And it grew… and grew… I felt it send its itchy energy on down into my lungs and then the cough began building in my chest. I tried to stifle it which only made it worse… when is that damned timer going to go off so that I can cough for crying out loud??? I couldn’t contain it. I coughed. But once was not enough and now I was coughing and coughing and really feeling like I’d broken the spell but still I kept my eyes shut and still no one stirred. The timer… oh, where was the timer? This was not relaxing at all.
Now, before we started, I’d had the sense to turn my phone to vibrate but, unfortunately, not the sense to think about what a vibrating phone might sound like in a handbag on the floor, in a room full of quiet meditators. Brrrrr….. Brrrrrrr….. Brrrrrrr. There it went. It was loud in this quiet, meditating room. It seemed to vibrate forever before it kicked into my voicemail and now I was wondering about who was calling me and why, all the while hoping the others were still in their own little zen-flow of relaxation. The final kicker, though was yet to come….
As soon as the voicemail finished, my phone, which was set to VIBRATE and, thus, not really supposed to have any sounds, for whatever reason, prompted the workout playlist on my Spotify account to spontaneously begin playing. So, as if my spastic coughing and the vibration of my phone weren’t intrusive enough, oh Lord, now Justin Timberlake was in da house.
I’m so sorry! Oh my god, really, really sorry…. I can’t believe this…. I don’t know why this phone is doing this, I swear I turned it to vibrate! And then I am digging in my purse, trying to find the damned phone among all the crap I carry around, then fumbling with it because none of the sliders or buttons will make it stop. Everyone is wide-eyed and looking at me and I am certain that now, in this moment, yes, the spell has truly been broken. There were chuckles and jokes and all was really just fine but talk about feeling like a buzzkill!
I apologized for ruining the moment again to the instructor who insisted that sometimes, the moment is what the moment is, coughs, malfunctioning iPhones and everything. On the way out, she handed me a copied section from a book called Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung. It describes the exercise of really eating an apple, really being present about what an apple looks, feels, smells and tastes like and eating that apple at the exclusion of doing anything else at all. Few of us, it would seem, really do this in our lives.
As you become fully aware of eating the apple, you also become fully aware of the present moment. You become fully engaged in the here and now. Living in the moment, you can really receive what the apple offers you, and you become more alive.
What did this moment offer me? Hmmmm. Well, I think we have these ideals about what things should be. It is often difficult to separate our ideals from the way that life really goes, the imperfections and the janky, glitchy stuff and so we shrug this business off as wrong or flawed. What this moment showed me is that it was real and that I was really there, chattering mind, itchy throat, noisy phone and everything. I was participating in my own life, being there and in the here and now in whatever the here and now was for me. Perhaps I can’t think of nothing. Maybe that racing mind is telling me that trying to do so isn’t my meditation. Clearly I’m profoundly open to having a helping hand, a guide, when it comes to being in a state of relaxation and focus on a beautiful story. I’m not completely sure, really, but just thinking about all of this does in fact make me feel more alive.
Incidentally, after the class had dispersed, the two people I’d gone to the session with both said, “Thank goodness for your phone. I was wondering when the hell that timer was going to go off!”
Next week, my friends, 52 Mondays will be on vacation. I will return on November 18. Be well until then.
TRY THIS WEEK: Eat the apple. Become more alive.