How I Meditate
I park in St. Louis upon return from a weekend with old friends. As I drove home, my heart smiled, cried, smiled, and cried some more. My mind loops through life’s what-ifs. From these thoughts, my stomach too finds itself out of sorts.
This that follows is my remedy for when I feel my mind stray unsettled. This is what I do when it doesn’t feel quite right.
What if you have made the wrong choice?
Internal nirvana starts externally. I sit in my grandmother’s beloved recliner with a blanket tucked up behind my shoulders. A scented candle flickers and emits nearby. I’m warm and secure.
Relationships are the most important part of your life and now you find them in your rear-view mirror. What if you don’t find people like them again?
Upon reaching external nirvana, I move internally. My external environs still root me. The external is real, and tangible, and easily forgettable in a busy mind. I breathe deeply with eyes open, enjoying the sensation of clear lungs. I close my eyes and scan my body from head down to toe, noticing that I had crossed and clenched two of my left toes. Begone you unnecessary and unhelpful tension. Though it’s these sensations upon which I’ll later rely.
I can’t recall how many minutes have passed but I find myself caught in a memory in Forest Park. I suppose that seeing old friends triggered old memories, which led to our jaunts through St. Louis, which led to the night in the park.
I engage the first of two strategies. Like how I organize my kitchen, I put each thought back in its appropriate drawer. Chicago friends belong in Chicago and experimental woes belong in lab. It may take a couple of tries, but after deliberate and gentle displacement of these thoughts from my mind into a very imaginable and physical location, I find some headspace. I can hear the rumblings of those memories, just as I can see my kitchen drawers. I love those memories, as I love my kitchen supplies. But right now, I’m baking bagels!
Will our globalized world where jobs pull us from city to city prevent me from close, long-term, dependable friends?
Some thoughts are more persistent. They tend to escape compartmentalization. It’s no fault of theirs, or mine. They’re important and deserve love, but alas, need their right time and place. For them I engage my second strategy: sensation.
In the background, the washing machine rumbles.
My favorite sensation is hearing. I first noticed this while throwing a frisbee in the park. I love to listen to the swirl of the wind through the trees. Now, as I meditate, I consider myself lucky if my roommate is showering or doing laundry. The rhythmic flow of water or mechanical hum of the washer help me to appreciate the present. So when I feel important thoughts tap my shoulder, I turn back and politely respond that I’d love to talk later, but that right now, I’m talking with the water that cleans my friend.
…And there’s that quiet mind. There’s that leafy rustle. There’s that lavender scent. These that make the world lovely…
These strategies work for me. On good days, my mind vibrates quietly like my beloved washing machine. I ride emotions daily: happy runs and misty walks and rebellious bike rides and inspirational conversations. But I also sleep deeply and do my best to live life with an even keel. I object to the idea that meditation is meant just to clear the mind. A clear mind sure is a great outcome but I see the real magic of meditation in the ability to understand and then empathize and then love one’s mind. I love my mind as I love people. It’s easy to love the comfort and beauty. But it’s beautiful to love the irksome, endearing, and adorable parts too.
Someone once told me that they wouldn’t share their meditation mantras with me. I think that for them it was a sacred utterance. That’s cool with me! In an effort to live a very shared life, here are some of my mantras. I try to repeat these often. So too may you. “Nothing is good if my mind isn’t good.” “Respond, don’t react.” “I want to live in the moment, so as to not let life pass me by.” “Make a plan, and then live in the moment.” “I want to be the happiness in others’ lives.” “I love you.”
What if…I love my Chicago friends…but I’ll see them, and you, so soon. Life is long and random. And life is short.