That's the picture some people paint when I tell them about my morning meditation routine.
Blah, blah blah blah, he said this, I thought he meant that… must remember to pay those two invoices today, making money is easy for me, blah blah blah… remember to create affirmation to bring in new clients into my massage practice… put flyers up in cafe, call that client back about the question they had about reflexology and anxiety… hope I can work out how to finish editing those meditations I recorded yesterday… ahh, the sound of the ocean and the breeze on my face…
Meditation. It's not exactly what it may seem.
When I first began meditating 15 years ago I was strung out working as a deputy editor on a teen mag called Smash Hits. Life happened in the fast lane and although I loved the speedy pace of work and the hectic weekends filled with parties and, well, more parties, I recognised that I needed some Time Out.
Somehow, I felt drawn to meditation but I knew nothing about it other than an idea that it involved sitting on a hilltop staring at the inside of your eyelids. Surprisingly I thought I can do that, so one Saturday afternoon I took myself off to Marks Park in Tamarama where I sat my feisty little self, (cross-legged because that's what monks do…), on a ridge (see hilltop, above) where I could look out across the ocean and not see the tops of the people's heads who were traipsing the coastal path below.
Ahhh, yes, meditation… I breathed in the salty air as I focused on the ocean and the clouds and began the mindful watching of my mind…
God knows what I was thinking at that time, but I imagine the internal dialogue would have included who was going to hit the number one spot in the charts that week, whether Brian from the Backstreet Boys was gay and how I might be able to get out of publishing and get a job as a reflexologist.
Despite what I just said, I do remember finding thoughtlessness quite easy. I was amazed at how peaceful it was to just sit in the flow of life and not attach to my thoughts.
But then 5 seconds later…
Hmm, not so easy after all.
I decided I wanted to explore the world of meditation and see if there was another way. Fortunately for me, there was.
At that time, the Smash Hits office was in Haymarket, just outside the CBD of Sydney, so one lunch time I walked into the city to my (then) favourite bookstore Adyar. This was a haven of spiritual books, bound and shelved between United Pictures (where I would go to watch movie reviews for work), and a comic and games store (which I wouldn't have gone in if you paid me).
In one of Adyar's serene avenues I found a book called Clearly Now I See which was full of guided meditations. Aha, I thought, this sounds better; a creative way to clear the mind that involves distraction as opposed to nothingness. I snapped it up and drank in the wisdom of guided meditation.
Each morning before entering Teen Magazine World I would read a meditation that involved imagining myself next to a stream that led to a waterfall where white light would shine down on me etc. Then I would follow instructions and fill my work space with a glorious pink light that would dissolve stress and invoke peace. Ahhh… After using these techniques I would arrive in the office blissed out and happy.
That would last until the next phone call to a press officer who, God forbid, didn't have a release date for the upcoming Brad Pitt movie which meant my deadlines were thrown out again. Grrrrrr, next minute, the pink and fuzzy light would blow out and my stress levels would flare right back up again.
I know this probably sounds like I'm saying meditation didn't help, but the short version of the story is actually the opposite.
All the little steps I took back then have led me to a place where I now have a practiced experience of meditation. Back then, all I had was a notion of what it should be. Each time I tried a new style of meditating I would be somewhat baffled that my life wasn't suddenly still and peaceful and that those hessian robes I'd psychically ordered must have got lost in the mail. But that's just the point.
Meditation is a practice, not a destination.
The more you meditate, the more you come to understand that it's not about stilling the mind completely. It's more about observing the ebb and flow of the mind. Noticing your triggers and choosing to stick with them or change them becomes a choice, which is where the path to inner peace begins. As long as you're stuck in reactive mode, you will always be at the mercy of your mind. But when you are in a position to observe how you're being, you become empowered to change your life. Not so much through your actions (although that is also possible), but through your attitude.
Fifteen years after beginning my meditation journey I can honestly say some days I am no farther along the path than I was back then. Some days my monkey mind has more to say than a gossiping housewife. But that's OK. I know now that that monkey has its place. And I can tell when it's taken the microphone, put itself on loudspeaker and thinks it's running the show. When that happens, it's usually because I've been drinking too much caffeine, have said "yes" to more than I can truly cope with, or have a new man on my mind.
When that happens, I go back to basics.
For me, that's singing mantra, a form of meditation that involves repeating a word or mantra over and over until the monkey has calmed down. Mantras are like ropes that tie the hands of the mental primate and handcuff the little fella until he shuts up. If that doesn't work then I listen to a guided meditation which allows my distracted mind to listen and be taken on a journey to somewhere more peaceful.
Meditation is a bit of a buzz word these days and I think it's great that so many of us are seeking inner peace. But if you are of the idea that meditating is about sitting on a hilltop without a care or thought in the world, then think again. The art of meditation is to keep meditating. And keep meditating. And keep meditating.
At some point along the way you'll begin to notice changes in your life and your attitude. It may take weeks, it may take years, but I guarantee, if you stick with it, there is only one outcome and that is change. Change is a process of incremental steps. Your ultimate goal may be inner peace, but the bus that will take you there is going to pass through a lot of townships. Some of them may be nice places to stop and rest, others may be bustling cities full of angry thoughts and annoying behaviours. You'll pass through them all. And some.
The mind is a bit like a zoo. So if you know in advance that there are cages full of snakes and others housing lions or tigers, you'll be much better prepared when you come upon the enclosure full of gibbons and orangutans who want to chew your wing mirrors and pull the windscreen wipers off your car.
Just don't be fooled by any sign that says "Monkey Sanctuary".
There's no such place. Trust me.