Stepping Off the Carousel (written 2014)
It takes effort to make time for a regular meditation practice. But I think it is so worth the work. I remember having the good intentions over and over again to change certain behaviors I was unhappy with. It might be habits, or moods, or actions. But mostly it came down to knowing there was a gap between the life I was living, what I was doing and how I was doing it, and the life I knew I wanted to live. I could not be comfortable where I was. It was a life of “When this...” and “If only this...” not a life of “just this”. Not a life of contentment.
What is interesting is that there is still a gap, often, between what I might wish to be the case, the ideal I envision, and what is. But there is contentment now. And mindfulness has made the difference. The more mindful I am in each moment, the more full that moment is, there is no room for “more”.
I know what it is like to have a schedule so full that the idea of one more thing to do is just too much. But when I used to think of meditation as one more thing to do, I didn't do it. I thought I could just learn to be mindful and do that. The wanting to be mindful would be enough. I'm not sure why I thought that. Wanting to be strong is not enough. Wanting to be fit is not enough. Wanting to pass an exam is not enough. Wanting to go to the moon won't get me there. There are things to be learned. Skills to acquire and to practice. Things to notice. Things to work on. There is effort involved. The Buddha spoke of “right effort” and it is part of the Eight-fold path that he taught.
OK, so why not just learn to be mindful in everyday life? I've tried that too. And I know others who insist they can do it this way. There's certainly enough going on to be mindful of. But that's just the problem. In the normal course of things, thoughts and feelings are whirling by at such a speed that we are like children on a playground carousel. We are holding on to the metal bars and watching the world go by in a blurr...either giddy with joy or cowering and crying, depending on whether the sensation is pleasant or unpleasant to each of us. Or maybe we just have our eyes closed and are struggling to endure until the spinning stops. It depends to some degree on the current conditions we're caught in. Is our best friend beside us? Did we just eat too much lunch?
When we do formal meditation, no matter how briefly or for how long, we step off the carousel. We let the momentum drop. We let the world stop spinning. We let the mind return to its natural quiet state. Awareness. Pure and clear.
This is the training ground. Thoughts still arise. Feelings still arise. But instead of spinning by in a blur, they are drifting. We have time to look, to pay attention to each detail as it passes. To notice the insubstantial nature of both thought and feeling. Instead of being a passenger on the carousel, cowering or triumphant, we are the skillful dancer in a spin, gaze fixed on the breath, returning to it in perfect balance after each rotation. We're learning to be still in the midst of movement. This is what it is to be mindful in daily life.
However we meditate, sitting or moving, on a meditation bench or standing in mountain pose, in flowing asanas, or mindful walking, we are training in concentration, wisdom and mindfulness, we are taking control by acknowledging our lack of control. This moment is what it is. Resting in awareness we are here.
In daily life then, like the dancer, we can depend on the grace and ease our training has made possible.