When it comes to meditation, I have a beginner’s mind. I also have an incredibly curious mind. About two years ago, a friend of my name Jennifer talked to me about mindfulness while we were riding our bikes. Jennifer, Dr. Jennifer Burns, was a guest on the Meet Mediocrity podcast early in Season One. Amazingly, her episode is still the most listened to episode of the Meet Mediocrity podcast by far! One of Jennifer’s most recalled comments on that podcast was that meditation can occur just a few moments at a time. She meditates for just a few moments every morning while drinking her first cup of coffee.
I listened to Jennifer and I read a book she recommended, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I thought I understood the power of meditation, but did not know how to take it to the next level. Fast forward a few months when I decided that I wanted to be like all of the people I heard about who had disciplined and purposeful morning routines. I always admired those people with a productive morning routine, but I instead found myself starting my days with coffee and TV news – not a healthy nor a meaningful start to my mornings. I gave it a lot of thought and decided that meditation and stretching were the best ways I could start my day. Get my head in a good spot and get my muscles ready to move. I had no idea whether meditation would bring about anything measurable, but I had heard so many good things about it that I was determined to give it a try.
I started by listening to guided meditations. I listened to Kristin McGee and Aditi Shah lead ten minute meditations on the Peloton app. I listened to guided meditations on YouTube. I found and listened to energy meditations, thankful meditations, strength meditations, empathy meditations – there seemed to be a guided meditation for just about every possible emotion! I heard meditation leaders telling me to picture myself as a rock, as a mountain, as a tree… to focus on my breathing, to breathe deeply down into my diaphragm, to breathe in for four counts and out for eight counts. It was relaxing and I was able to put my mind in the present moment, but I kept wondering “was there more to this?”
One day I was speaking to a friend of mine named David. I always admired David because his presence is always calm, zen… at least on the surface! David is a tai chi master and an avid meditator. David suggested that I “graduate” from guided meditations and that I should just meditate in silence. He also suggested meditating with my eyes open, not closed. He didn’t give an explanation to any of these, he just suggested that I try it.
Meditating in this way both worked for me and did not work for me. I found that having my eyes open was sometimes distracting and I found that having complete silence was distracting in that it allowed my mind to freely wander. So, I applied some modifications. Rather than listening to a guided meditation I listened to soothing meditation music or nature sounds (like waves on the beach, which I love) to focus me on the moment… to remind me that it was meditation time. I also kept my eyes closed when I wanted to and I gazed softly ahead when I wanted to. I let my mood dictate what I did with my eyes. I started learning a lot of things during my meditation. I observed how random thoughts entered my mind. I observed what kind of thoughts entered my mind. I observed that things I was ruminating about yesterday were often nothing worth wasting my mind on at all. So, what did I do? I asked David more questions!
“David, what’s next? How do I know what to do when I’m meditating? How do I know when I have become an advanced meditator?“
For those experienced meditators and mindful readers of this blog you are laughing to yourselves. Naive questions, but I really did ask them. David did not laugh. He gave me this incredibly helpful advice: “Mitch, imagine you spent your entire life in your neighborhood. You lived in your community and never left. Then, one day, someone waved a magic wand at you and you were magically transported to the center of London. No cell phone. No map. No guidebook. What would you do?“ I told him how I would explore. How I would try different restaurants, walk different streets, speak to people and learn about my new neighborhood. David smiled and said, “There you have it! Just do that in your meditation. You will learn more and more about London, and meditation, the more and more you explore it.“
I received that advice about a month ago and I’m still exploring. I think I will likely be exploring for the rest of my life.
I know this seems crazy to those of you who are not meditators. It would have sounded crazy to me just a few months ago – but meditation might be the best thing I have ever tried. I am happy for it to be a lifelong journey that will hopefully help give me peace and calm. I can tell that I am nowhere near achieving that, but I like my new neighborhood so far and I can’t wait to continue my explorations.