I’m sitting here on my cushion, eyes closed, reflecting on how the hell I’m supposed to ‘be present.’ C’mon man! Be in the Now. Be With. You got this.
I’ll start by closing my eyes and look at my third eye. That’s what all the yogis talk about…I think…?
Ouch. That gives me a headache. How do people do this?
OK - that’s too much…how about I relax my eyes.
Wait…now I forget how to relax my eyes.
Let me just open my eyes. That works, too.
Go away Saturn…I love you but your cute cat self is too….
…..distracting. Back to eyes closed.
How long has it been? It has to be 5 minutes by now…
I think I want Kombucha…
Continue mental rant ….
Sound familiar? If you have meditated even once you know the feeling - flittering in your mind like a pinball in a machine from thoughts to thinking in an instant. Am I doing this right?! What am I supposed to be doing? Is it even working?!
It’s easy to get all defeated, make excuses for how you ‘can’t meditate’ or ‘sit still’, but lets be real...ANYTHING can be done with proper tools. The best part about life is that ANYTHING can be learned and we’re blessed with living in the Information Age - yes YouTube!
Having access to a wealth of information at your fingertips is great and awesome, but what matters is your COMMITMENT to using it. If you’re willing to give up the lies that you ‘can’t’, here is a crash course with three points in PRESENCE - one of the greatest outcomes to a meditation practice.
First - Presence is different than ‘The Present’
The present is a moment in linear time - like Past, Present, and Future. The truth is you are ALWAYS in the present moment.
You can’t ever transport yourself back to the past, or hyper-blast yourself to the future. You are always in the present. But here is the caveat: you can be in the present and thinking about what that rude person said to you at Wegman’s 3 weeks ago and what you wished you replied back with; you can be in the present and be thinking about how awesome your life will be once you overhaul that annoying facet of your life you can’t wait to change. You can be in the present thinking that you’ll be happy when…..
You can be in the present moment, while simultaneously being no where at all! So what does all this talk about ‘being in the present’ mean anyway and how does it actually help you?
Well, if you move on from the fact that you are always in the present, the next step is tapping into something different: presence - or what I call an embodied state of being within the present moment. Presence is to be in your body, experiencing life viscerally - with feelings and sensations!
Acknowledging that there are spontaneous thoughts arising and dissolving.
A tool is discernment: recognizing when you have thoughts versus when you are caught up in thinking and making the choice to turn. Discernment is a spiritual gift and it looks and feels different than judgement. Its about getting real with yourself (from love) and acknowledging something like when you drift away, which happens!
One of the greatest harms you can do in your meditation is get angry with yourself for thinking. Start to get comfortable with the fact that the brain thinks - and that is OK!
Second - Thoughts and thinking are two different things
Thoughts are spontaneous and arise and dissolve. They most likely do not follow a linear story line and are random pop-ups of reflections, reminders, and memories among many other categories. Sometimes a thought will pop into my head and I’m not gonna lie - I wonder, where the hell did that come from? 😹
I hear so many students say they can’t meditate because their brains are too busy and they can’t quiet the thoughts. This is so sad to hear because our goal of meditation is not to stop the thoughts! That is a big undertaking that realistically will only result in feelings of failure.
I’m not sure where these misconceptions came from, but I want you to know that finding presence is possible no matter what you think the inner workings of your brain are like.
So if thoughts are spontaneous and do not follow linear lines, thinking is that inner dialogue, the stories we continuously create around what we believe we’re experiencing.
For example, a thought may arise that you need to move the laundry to the dryer before work. This thought could arise and dissolve. Often what happens though is this thought becomes entangled with other related thoughts, and we transition into thinking.
Remembering that you need to move the laundry over turns into thinking about the detergent costs and how you may want to switch to a cheaper brand and how that STUPID lady at Wegman’s just really got you pissed when you were there to buy detergent and ugh…why didn’t I reply with this clever remark. And bam - you’re in the rabbit hole.
Now the rabbit hole is not bad. It’s not wrong. It’s not a place you need to feel guilt about entering into! Shit happens, the brain is just doing its job, go easy on ‘em! But you DO need to discern when thoughts turn into thinking and come back to your anchor: the thing that brings you back into presence.
This takes practice (which is why I’m grateful I have many lives to give it a go) and it leads me to my next point:
Have an anchor to return to
An anchor is a tool you actively use to return to embodied presence within your body. If you’re caught up in the world of thinking you need to return to something.
When thoughts morph into thinking and become distracting (which they often do) return to something else your body can sense like your breath or even better - your actual physical body!
Meditation studies have shown that focusing on the body is much more effective than focusing on your breath for newer students. Breath practices are very subtle and harder to ‘feel’ whereas the physical body is much more tangible.
Your anchor could be body awareness like a self-guided body scan, a guided meditation where you follow the audio, pranayama or a breath control practice, star gazing or looking out of a window, or closing your eyes and watching the colors, patterns and shapes shift and morph.
Whatever you choose, you return to that place time and time again. Even if you need to return 10,000 times in 5 minutes, the practice is working, because you are practicing! Don’t give up!
My intention is to provide tools for anyone who is interested to enjoy the gift of meditation with some ease. For more on this I’ll write a blog post soon about my morning ritual.
If you’d like to join for in-class instruction, come out for my Meditation Foundations workshop on Tuesday January 29th at 5:45pm @ SHINE Power Yoga Maple Shade.