You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour." - Zen Proverb
Our minds are funny about time like that, aren’t they? When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can feel like the last few seconds we will ever experience are ticking away, and we become paralyzed with indecision on how to spend them. Yet, almost all of us can recount a time (no matter how long ago) when we felt relaxed and in the flow, and hours passed by that felt like only minutes.
This morning, I woke up feeling the former. My mind woke already scanning my to-do list over the next few days, and if I hadn’t been aware of it, I would have done what I’ve done in the past:
rush to get up, hurriedly get ready, maybe/not eat breakfast, pretty much hold my breath until I got to work, and then spring into “doing” whatever fell in front of me- ALL.DAY.LONG. as the tension, anxiety, and irritability mounted.
Sound familiar? It can be a challenging pull to intervene with. Thankfully, (over the past couple of years) I have created a new routine to replace the default:
I wake, take a deep breath and say a prayer of gratitude for another day, brush my teeth, wash my face, drink a glass of water, and meditate.
I have carved out a special place in our homes (we’ve moved, and I create a little nook wherever we go) for this practice.
I sit down and take a deep breath. I check in with my body (just notice what sensations are presenting themselves where). I write down what is present and any dreams that I had/remember.
Then I set a timer and meditate. I follow my breath: the belly moving away from the spine on the inhale and it’s moving toward the spine on the exhale. As the breath deepens and flows, I zoom my attention out to the body and my surroundings.
I (attempt to) neutrally observe thoughts. When the mind (I say “mind” and not “I” because the mind is not who we are; how can it be if we can also watch it?) gets distracted, I come back to following the breath. Time and time again. I come back to the breath.
At first, this practice felt wildly uncomfortable; my mind was heavily resistant to sitting still. “This is a waste of time. Why are you doing this? It’s not working. You could be doing X, Y, Z, on your to-do list.”
Thankfully I had experienced teachers, and also a deep desire to “be a good student” (which actually supported me in this practice), and that kept me showing up. Slowly, over time, I realized I am in WITNESS to the mind, I am the OBSERVER of it. It doesn’t control me. It’s content is not me. And I can choose how I want to respond to it. We can choose. If we choose to let it run in the background without becoming clearly aware of what it is saying, we are likely being controlled by its actions, and also perhaps missing out on our mind/body system trying to communicate with us.
I was reminded of that this morning. I felt the discomfort of overwhelm and a racing mind as I moved through the first part of my morning routine. I sat down on my meditation cushion and said “what’s up?”. What I noticed first was that the base of my body felt light, and super ungrounded, like it could float up off the ground. My head, in contrast, felt so heavy that it could fall over forward! What’s up with that?
How I interpreted that feedback, was that my root chakra (which is concerned with survival and base needs) needed some love, and my third eye chakra (concerned with intuition) was feeling smothered by overthinking and overanalyzing in the mind. In other (less mystical) words, I needed to get out of my head and into my body. I also became aware of the most present causative factor: I am leaving for an international trip in a couple of days. I tend to be a nervous flyer, and a light sleeper, and this trip entails three flights, including an overnight. When I feel afraid or unsafe, my default tendencies are to plan, control, and stay really busy to feel like I am “doing” something.
I noticed this as I sat with the breath. I acknowledged it (we must if we want it to release). I spoke kindly to my body/mind: “Ok. I can see you are nervous about the upcoming travel. I understand. What can I do to support you, right now?”. And almost immediately my whole system exhaled, and solutions became readily available:
So that’s the system that really supports me. I am sharing it in the hopes that it can serve as a template for you to create your own.
Stress is at the root of almost every illness, and is an exacerbating trigger for those chronic conditions our society seems to be plagued with today.
We cannot control our outer world. And to the ego mind, who THRIVES on PERCEIVED control, that really sucks. But we CAN learn to control how we respond to EVERYTHING internally and externally, which in turn influences our thoughts, emotions, biology, physiology, and the way we experience the world around us.
That’s pretty powerful.
And it all begins with becoming intentional about what you want, and aligning your energy and actions with that intention.