I confess…I do not meditate. Already, I can hear the Yoga Police smacking copies of the Bhagavad Gita and firing up the smudge sticks.
But wow, it feels good to rip off that Band-aid. I know I should. I know meditation is good for me. I recommend it to my clients all the time. I’ve read the studies. I think Jon Kabat-Zinn is the bomb and wish he’d come over for dinner and bring a fabulous Cab. Those who do meditate, I slap on the back and praise, “Good job. Now drop down and give me 10 more minutes of Zen.” But me, myself, no I do not meditate. For years, that guilty truth has made me bow my head when asked, “Tell me about your meditation practice,” and say shit like, “Oh, I would but I’m so devout I wouldn’t want to, you know, make you feel less-than what with all my matcha sipping meditating at sunrise while facing east, mala beads delicately wrapping both wrists.” My hands are bloody, people! I use my meditation cushion under my head to nap in the middle of the day. Or to prop up a saggy bookshelf. When I do sit on my cushion, it’s to read The New Yorker while eating bacon-wrapped chunks of leftover steak.
You see, I teach yoga and mindfulness, ALL DAY LONG so meditation should be the hammer in my tool box. It’s like a chef saying, “I don’t use sharp knives.” A fisherman refusing to buy bait. A sex worker poo-pooing condoms. Okay, I’ll stop there.
Turns out, I can be forgiven. Or at least, given a team badge for pursuing a different methodology towards mindfulness. Ellen Langer, a Harvard based social psychologist, threw down the gauntlet decades ago, by postulating in her unconventional studies what neuroscientists are now confirming. Our experiences are formed by the words and ideas attached to them. And it’s possible to achieve mindfulness without yoga and meditation by “the simple act of actively noticing things.”
Once, while preparing dinner for my brother, Edward, and his family, I assigned him the task of thinly slicing lemons. He took forever to do it, because every slice he’d hold up to the light, twist and turn it like a tiny steering wheel, and marvel. Finally he whispered, “So beautiful. Simple, but so beautiful.” I chided him for smoking too much pot and told him to get crackin’. I didn’t have time for beauty. The brussel sprouts were already chopped and the chicken was roasting. But this moment by the sink is as clear to me as if it had happened yesterday, not 10 years ago. In retrospect, I can see how mindfully my brother lived his life. When hiking together, and a cloudburst sent down rain, instead of ducking for cover (that’s me, cowering in a cave), he’d lift his face and smile, “every time you’re thirsty, the Universe delivers water.” By describing the experience of getting rained on as a gift rather than a curse, he did exactly what Langer speaks so lucidly about in her On Being interview (Google it. You won’t regret it.) It is possible to be completely present using words and images, ideas and stories.
Me, I started out needing a more tactile experience than Edward. Hands and toes, that’s my bread and butter. So my moving meditation on the yoga mat, where I feel my skin on the mat, hear the wind in the trees outside Little Fish and listen to the “whoosh” of a foot stepping back, arms sweeping up…those were my first touches with meditation. But then that felt-sense left the studio. The hum of my bicycle wheels on pavement and the astonishing way life finds purchase in the forest. Taking my camera along, to the beach and to the woods, that’s when I realized I was noticing more than the feeling of my body moving through space; I was capturing the world as I see it. Not thinking about “what’s next.” Or worrying the details of a situation beyond my control. I am completely present when constantly noticing new things all the time. Even in my relationships.
The Ranger and I have been together for so many years now, I have to squint when remembering when we first met. But this morning, while sipping coffee, I swiped his hair across his forehead and noticed how soft it is, a few touches of gray around the ears (he blames me for those.) How it lays just right even first thing in the morning. How his sleepy eyes are different from his awake face. That’s when he told me to stop staring at him, it was freaking him out…lol. But I love that he’s new to me every day. And every day, we get to start over again.
Of course, there are many paths to mindfulness. And meditation and yoga are good ones. This is not to say I’ve given up on meditation in the traditional sense. My cushion awaits. But one size does not fit all. At this moment, right now…my name is Holly and I do not meditate. Yet, my words and photos, my explorations in the natural world, on a bike, in a kayak, or on foot, are creating world peace in this over-scheduled, over-stimulated, joyful being.