Over time, telling people I meditate has not been a bad thing; it’s given the impression that I’m in control, know my own mind, am relaxed and open to good and positive thoughts.
This however is not always the case. I tend to meditate days after first thinking it would be a good idea, realizing of course that if I’d not put it off, my stress level would not be so high, my discomfort not so acute. I do meditate, I’m just a little irregular.
I remember reading about a meditation study involving 11 experiments and over 400 people between the ages of 18 and 77. Since I fall within the specified age group and am of a reflective nature, I was immediately interested. Generally I try to avoid “recent studies”—they throw me off balance; I’m either doing something I shouldn’t or I’m not doing something I should. This one got me wondering: is meditation now deemed bad for my health or should I be Zen-ing out at every opportunity?
In this particular study, participants who were allowed to read or listen to music while sitting quietly found the experience satisfying, even pleasurable. In contrast, those required to sit with no distractions of any kind, had a different tale to tell. The study found approximately 25 per cent of women and over 60 per cent of men preferred getting a mild electrical shock rather than being quiet with their own thoughts. These exercises were short, lasting 6 to 15 minutes. Some volunteers, given the choice, said they would pay money not to have the shock; in the event though, they chose zap over Zen!
Now and again I’ve tried meditation classes only to find I get distracted. Someone sniffs at regular intervals; my left knee develops an itch; the snack I’ll have when I’m finished floats before my eyes. I don’t go back. I vow to meditate regularly at home. Home, where there are fewer distractions. Ha! Mundane tasks suddenly become incredibly important and take priority: cleaning the car, sorting the recycling, tossing out recipes I’ll never make, making a to-do list for the coming month.
Meditation takes commitment and time. It’s tricky too, you can’t easily think of nothing, not unless you’re prepared to count, chant or fall asleep. Eventually though, the yoga mat, bolster-cushion and incense sticks beckon from the far side of the living room and the guy with the dreamy voice on the CD tempts me to stop whatever it is I think I should be doing and get on with—nothing—except to become aware of my breathing. Doing nothing, it turns out, affords me unlimited possibilities: a creative nudge, a problem solved, occasionally a short power nap. It puts things in perspective and gives me a nice little break, a time out away from it all.
Minds are supposed to be busy; that’s their job. But my job is to quieten my mind down with a promise, like the shopkeeper’s sign, to be back in 10 minutes. This seems a fair exchange. And when I put my mind to it, I enjoy a meditation and feel my time has been well spent. It’s at this point I resolve to repeat the exercise every day—same time, same place. I never achieve this, but I never stop trying.
Here’s the thing. My “real” meditations sneak up on me unannounced. I think most people would call it pleasant daydreaming. I step into my garden, or indeed anyone’s garden, get on my knees and smell the flowers; I make time to visit with the blue dragonfly that lands on my noodle as I float in the lake; I follow the course of a cloud; watch the light dance through the sprinkler; and search for four-leaf clovers, just for the fun of it. My husband, a geologist, looks at a beach or cliff in admiration for the planet’s beauty with a solid understanding of why things are the way they are. I listen to him; I try to absorb what he’s telling me because it seems important, but the only things that really sink in are my toes in the warm sand. It doesn’t matter: what matters is that I appreciate it all and I marvel in the moment.
If anyone else out there is offering 15 minutes of uninterrupted silence, then, please, count me in. Until then, the tranquility of Okanagan Life will have to do.