Your yoga teacher, shrink and shaman all told you that you should practice meditation. You saw Ellen Degeneres endorse TM -- that's Transcendental Meditation for those who've lived under a rock for the past 50 years -- on TV and thought perhaps it was time to invest $1000 in your spiritual growth. So you decide you will start meditating... soon... but definitely not this weekend. You're supposed to go to three July 4th BBQs this weekend.
Well, if you haven't got around to meditate, or have relapsed for the 124th time from your supposedly daily meditation schedule, here's how to fix your procrastination-- forget about it and go on with your real life.
About two years ago I quit meditating. Mind you, you're talking to someone who used to meditate for at least an hour a day. I used to know all kinds of complicated meditation techniques, going to workshops and visiting teachers everywhere. I was vigilant about having a structured meditative practice. Mostly because the daily discipline made me feel as though I were improving myself every day.
But then one day I simply stopped.
I stopped because I realized that separating the practice of mindfulness from the rest of life defeats its purpose. You can sit there, shut out the world, and chant unintelligible Sanskrit words with your eyes closed for however long you want. And if you do it right, you will feel sublime. You may see visions and hear angels and have a Kundalini orgasm (comes in handy when you don't have a free hand). It's all well and good.
The tricky part comes when you open your eyes. You'd probably find that the world is as crazy as an hour ago, its demand on you as unreasonable and relentless as ever. Does meditation make you function better in the world? Possibly. But for many people, it also creates a separate reality, a better reality that you can escape to when things are not working out in the here and now.
In that separate reality you're doing great. You are calm and kind and an enlightened being. You may attribute the peacefulness to the meditation technique you're using and there's probably some truth to it. But here's the main reason why you feel so calm in meditation: Because not much is really happening! No bills to pay, no deadline to chase, no scrawny baby peeing in your face when you have your eyes closed (hopefully).
I stopped meditating also because, honestly, who has the f**king time? If a meditation technique requires you to get up at six and sit straight for an hour, you can safely assume that it was invented at least five hundred years ago, back when people actually had an hour to spare at 6 am. There are periods in my life when I'm so busy that whenever I close my eyes, I simply doze off. If you do the same when you meditate, good for you. Sleep is what you need. Not meditation.
Before my yoga teacher/therapist/shaman friends start yelling at me, let me be clear that meditation has many benefits. If you like it, excellent. Keep up the good work.
But if you somehow can not/do not want to meditate, yet want the similar benefits, try this:
For two to three times a day, 10 minutes each time, sit quietly by yourself.
This is what I started doing after I quit my elaborate mediation practices. I do not recite mantras. I do not attempt to bend my arms and legs into inhumane positions. I do not close my eyes. I do not imagine white light coming into my head or any supernatural body parts growing out.
I turn away from my computer and cell phone and simply sit.
Like a normal person.
I do not try to think or feel anything. I do not try not to think or feel anything, either.
Sometimes my eyes would spontaneously cast downward, a sign that my attention is turning inward, while keeping contact with the outside world.
This is the ten minutes when I check in with myself, recoup my reserves, rest my over-stimulated nerves, release tension in my body, stop fighting/resisting, and simply savor existence. It's a big agenda. But you'd be surprised how much you could accomplish in ten minutes doing essentially nothing.
This is in fact the essence of what people normally call meditation, striped of the hooplas.
You can do this almost any time, anywhere you want. I do it the first thing when I get to the office. Sometimes I do it on the metro, or even in meetings. Because in most meetings if you don't listen for ten minutes, you haven't missed anything important.
I have more energy, creativity and clarity of mind. I listen better and am more patient with myself and with others. I have higher-quality human interactions, because I have more bandwidth to actually see people, with less need to withdraw or turn away. And in intense situations, while my primal instinct is still to fight or flight, I'm now more likely to remain open to higher possibilities.
Try it. Sit for 10 minutes by yourself. Start with twice a day. Actually, stop reading and do it now.
And let me know how it goes.
Natasha Che is a personal growth teacher and writer based in Washington DC. She writes about relationship, career, spirituality and creative process on natashache.com, where you can sign up to receive monthly inspiration. Natasha is working on a memoir titled Wizardry: One Woman's Quest for Meaning, Mission, and Magic.