When I awoke this morning and sat down at my kitchen table to sip coffee, a cold breeze was rushing through the cracked open window. It felt like the tug of an eager dog to go outside. I was strongly drawn to take a walk in the park. At the same time there was another urge that would not leave me alone; I was also pulled towards the idea of a long seated silent meditation.
Over the years I have meditated on and off. Sometimes with great discipline and regularity. Sometimes I move away from it for a while. Last year I was very regular. I had taken a meditation class and was reading a certain book and was committed to strictly following that technique. At first it was fun to do it just that way (which involved shifting my attention from one thing to the next until holding it on the sensation of the breath through the nose).
Then one day last winter I realized that my relationship to the meditation technique was totally contrived. I was obsessed with my Insight Timer meditation app clocking my impeccable daily meditation practice. It would give me little accolades as I amassed weeks and months of regular practice, never missing a day. And they meant something to me.
It also started feeling so mental. I was supposed to use my mind to keep steady focus on the sensation of breath at my nose. So I was constantly, perpetually in my head while using my head to hold this focus. It felt like I was thinking harder than I did when I do the dishes. This is not it. I finally admitted.
Do not mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon. Says Zen wisdom. Which is just what I had done.
So I quit. And ruined my perfect attendance streak on my meditation app. Since then I have done little mini meditations as part of my morning practice, and some longer sits in Ibiza and other special times, but I haven’t been that serious about it.
Anyway, back to this morning. I took an excellent walk in Prospect Park, which was completely empty but for the trees and the falling leaves and the ducks. It was snowing so lightly – barely perceptible. It felt cold and wonderful outside.
Then back in my apartment I sat in “meditation” for 30 minutes. But I did not attempt any technique. I just set up a comfortable seat, set a timer, and allowed presence to prevail.
The textures of the present moment were more and more apparent. My mind moved a little towards this and that, but then would naturally settle itself into just this again. I’d naturally come back to simply being. Just being here. Now. In this room. With the parquet floor and the plant’s vine and the pattern of light tossed across the walls by the chandelier.
I let myself off the hook from focusing or anything to do with mental effort. And then, ohhhhh how luxurious to have a full 30 minutes to just be! What joy! What a privilege. It reminded me of when I started meditating 15 years ago, how it felt like such a treat – this time when I didn’t have to do anything. I got it. Then upon tasting that, I was excited, so I kept learning all these techniques but they clouded what my body already naturally knew how to do.
Meditation technique does have its place. And I especially think led meditations can be lovely to re-orient one’s mental behavior. But I feel deep in my bones how important it is to trust that you already know how to meditation. At some point you can let go of those training wheels, and just sit. Just be. Let the present moment be the teacher.
Try it. Let me know how it goes.